Hissing Brings Free-Jazz Frenetics to Minutely Detailed Metal (Album Review)
Metal is a far more deliberate form of music than jazz, but the way some artists make it, one could be forgiven for wondering if they're improvising. Hissing lands in this category. Like a rabid Derek Bailey colliding with Sun Ra in the mosh pit, the Seattle three-piece piles notes incongruously atop one another, making their instruments scream.
Their newest release, Hypervirulence Architecture, is a charnel house of dissonant chords pounded together with nails of noise. While this is hardly an album for fans of mainstream metal, its details are beguiling and rewarding for those willing to sit in discomfort with the band for 35 harrowing minutes. Hypervirulence Architecture isn't just bewildering, however—if you're a musical masochist, it's a genuinely fun listen.
Take "Operant Extinction," the record's third and longest track. Over ten and a half minutes, it twists and turns its way through a lightless passage of riffs that's illuminated only by the occasional far-off dirge of melancholic chords. To listen to the track is to feel pursued by the Balrog through the depths of Moria.
Appropriately, I suspect this will be the fundamental problem for listeners—did you want to go down through the tunnel or continue along a mountain pass? I ask this because there is no reprieve on Hissing's latest record. Hypervirulence Architecture is as bleak as it gets. The penultimate song "Identical to Hunger" is a breakless five-minute spell of terror and confusion, music to rend garments and wring hands to. Even the album's title track, a caesura of crashing cymbals, distorted speech and ominous synth, is a dim and unhappy break from the raw power of rage and fear on either side.
In spite of its precision and density, Hissing also take some remarkably jazzy excursions. Take the beginning of "Intrusion," where bass burbles beneath listless guitar. For a moment, the track's slow build allows listeners to appreciate a band that sounds loose and skillful. It's clear this trio is on the same page, even when "Intrusion" lurches right back into the moil of breakneck anti-melodies and precision drumming. Opener "Cells of Nonbeing" even incorporates some saxophone squonk.
The drums are a particular highlight on Hypervirulence Architecture—Sam Pickel annihilates the kit throughout the record, expertly filling gaps with splashes and crashes in between relentless bars of blast beats and tom pummeling. Pickel's drums and Joe O'Malley's guitar work, which dwells high on the frets and feels almost manic at times, form counterpoints to one another that revolve around the unsteady center of Zach Wise's impressive vocals and listless basslines.
Closer "Meltdown" brings all of this intricacy and bile together in one place, even using some more conventional death-metal riffage around the track's midway point. This is perhaps the most melodic track on Hypervirulence Architecture, yet it, too, seethes. It closes the album with drums that are part-cyborg, part Art Blakey before everything finally dissolves in digital chaos. This is the sound of an analog world ending in zeroes and ones. For those who had a bad day at work today, consider beginning at the end here.
Those ready for the sheer force of Hissing's latest release are likely to enjoy it. It builds on the sound the band developed on splits with acts like Sutekh Hexen and their pathbreaking 2018 release Permanent Destitution. As we noted in that review, if you read "Seattle" and "black metal" and pulled up expecting Cascadian nature worship, Hissing is bound to disappoint and possibly even bore you. But if you're a willing participant, Hypervirulence Architecture will sear its way into the wrinkles of your brain, bewildering you with its simultaneous ferocity and confidence.
Hissing has doubled down on decay on Hypervirulence Architecture. If you're ready for an aural beating, this record is out today via Profound Lore.