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Cascadian Antithesis: Hissing’s Remarkable Debut “Permanent Destitution”

hissing album cover

Within American black metal, no regional scene has yet to match the prolific nature of the Pacific Northwest’s atmospheric majesty, which has coagulated into its own subgenre over the course of the last decade. Dubbed “Cascadian” or “ecological” black metal, many bands have constructed identities based upon environmental philosophy, creating Thoreau-obsessed, melancholic odes to the everlasting beauty of nature. Seattle-based Hissing has rejected this ideology entirely. Bearing an attitude more attuned to the demonic, sludgy depths of Washington state’s scene two decades prior to its black metal spring, there is no trace of Walden Pond in their agonized and spitting hatred, with liturgical hymns to Mother Earth replaced by chasms of screaming feedback boiling over into primordial rage.

Formed in 2014, the group’s unparalleled blackened death/doom ferocity already boasts an impressive track record, including a major US tour supporting Seattle compatriots Sunn O))) and a split with Sutekh Hexen released last year via The Flenser. Now signed to Profound Lore records, Hissing presents this Friday their debut full-length Permanent Destitution, which they describe as “primal avant-deathnoise.” With electronically conceived bouts of excruciating chaos and deranged riffs that almost sound as if they’re being played backward, the group is poised to deliver on their alluring promises of utter devastation.

The band’s name is apt: a major highlight of Permanent Destitution’s sound is its sizzling bedlam of layered audio effects. Its first track “Backwards Descent” begins with a cacophony of industrial noise, creating a fitting sonic counterpart to its title as the sound of creaking, collapsing steel is overtaken by a swell of guitars distorted into oblivion, an auditory soundscape not unlike that of a recently kicked beehive. “Eulogy in Squalor,” one of the record’s singles, boasts a similar opening, with a bout of digital turmoil searing the listener before erupting into a violent stampede of insanity. But rather than simply tacking these moments of manipulated noise to the beginning of their songs, Hissing effectively spread these elements throughout the entirety of the record, injecting each and every track with sinister, inorganic loathing.

Permanent Destitution contains not a single moment of straightforwardness or predictability. Where most atmospheric blackened death metal bands aim to create a steady march of meditative, lilting grandeur to induce the listener into a “transcendental” state of mind, Hissing rarely settles into a consistent flow, electing rather to keep us in anticipatory tension with constant schizophrenic transitions. Passages of lightspeed blast-beats and intensely dissonant riffs flip into clenched fists of blackened sludge/doom rage with glacially slow assaults that could rival even the most catatonically lethargic groups. Perhaps the best example of this occurs on the record’s fifth track “Cascading Failures” which begins with a blistering whirlwind of double bass and tremolo guitars that fade into a disgustingly heavy beatdown, decorated by the album’s uniquely polydexterous drum fills; crisp cymbals and scattered toms spiral around the listener, coalescing into an incomprehensible assault. Hissing, however, have added enough idiosyncratic nuance into Permanent Destitution to make their own strain of anarchy stand out from even the most overwhelmingly chaotic bands.

The sense of rhythm, tempo, and time on Permanent Destitution is infused with undeniable technicality but played in an astoundingly loose style, with musical phrases often becoming entirely unhinged from any sense of meter. On “Pablum Abundance,” the track’s central riff shifts time signatures from 6/4 to 9/8 to 7/4 all while becoming more and more disorganized, with instrumentals and percussion breaking apart into dissenting pandemonium. Regardless of this initially deceptive air of internal discord, the rhythmic confusion within this track is rife with intentionality: the group’s three members play with paradoxically tight panache. Where many equally dungeon-esque groups attempt to achieve an aesthetic of organized chaos, Hissing successfully accomplishes a sort of chaotic organization.

hissing band

Despite the oleaginous whirlpool of Permanent Destitution’s blackened gristle guitar and head-spinning noise tones, Brandon Fitzsimons and James Plotkin’s deft mixing and mastering abilities keep all of the album’s various sonic elements afloat, and more importantly unified. The record is undoubtedly murky, with cranked-up gain overloading amplifiers and splitting guitar tone apart at the seams, but these aspects come across as intentional choices rather than mistakes or oversights. Bassist/vocalist Zach Wise benefits immensely from this immaculate production: his thumping bass lines are clearly audible and can be effortlessly picked apart from Joe O’Malley’s guitar harmonies. Meanwhile, his beastly, harrowing growl bursts through the mix as if it were yet another instrument. Thus, the trio delivers their signature pulverization together in unison like one singular animal, some ungodly six-armed beast summoned directly from the VIP section of hell.

With a powerful first LP released only four years into their existence, Hissing has demonstrated an unbelievably rapid maturation of their sound as well as incredible future potential. While experiencing Permanent Destitution, it is easy to forget that you are listening to the group’s debut album. And although its length is relatively limited, this record is a shining example of quality over quantity, with the group offering six succinct tracks each exemplifying their dismal trademark style. One fair criticism of the record is that, for the most part, it sees Hissing playing within their own comfort zone; although they have nailed down a unique sound, there are no outlying, adventurous moments. Typically, the hope is that an experimental band would make a more concerted effort to venture outside their own preset boundaries; rather, although not all six tracks adhere to the same exact structure, they are built from rearranged versions of the same building blocks. Despite this, it is difficult to locate any moments of tedium or poor execution in this latest effort, and in a year of dauntingly impressive debuts, Permanent Destitution stands tall as a monument of hideous, inhuman metal.

— Thomas Hinds

Permanent Destitution releases October 26th via Profound Lore Records. Pre-order the album and stream its first two singles on the label’s Bandcamp page.

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