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Wormhole - Almost Human review

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Band: Wormhole
Album: Almost Human
Release date: September 2023

01. System Erase
02. Elysiism
03. Spine Shatter High-Velocity Impact
04. Data Fortress Orbital Stationary
05. Delta Labs
06. Almost Human
07. Bleeding Teeth Fungus
08. The Grand Oscillation

Wormhole are driving innovation in perhaps one of the least innovative metal subgenres, with their self-proclaimed ‘tech slam’ style. As they continue to push the boundaries of brutal death, however, they may need to start weighing the merits of some of the elements tethering them to this niche.

I acknowledged when I reviewed this year’s album from Paroxysmal that brutal death is one of my less preferred subgenres of metal; one of the main reasons that I liked Force Feeder was that, despite the packaging, it didn’t actually have all that much to do with brutal death. In the case of Almost Human, Wormhole’s debut on Season Of Mist, slam is very much an integral aspect of its composition; however, like on the group’s previous effort, there’s quite a lot more to their sound.

Almost Human plays its hand pretty early on; the opening one-two of “System Erase” and “Elysiim” make clear that Wormhole’s writing extends beyond the confines of slam and into technical death. The former opens immediately with the kind of techy dissonance that has made bands such as Ulcerate so irresistible, and even when it slides into a meatier groove, the song still sustains a strong pace and intensity; there’s something to the combination of sounds on this song that may appeal to those that enjoyed Artificial Brain’s self-titled last year. “Elysiism” really ups the ante in terms of what a slam band is capable of; from the off, there’s a melodic touch to the technical guitarwork, which acts as a solid platform for the exhilarating leap into full-blown melodic tech-death in the second half, capped off by a blistering, shimmering solo. It’s a sound that could easily have appeared on an album such as The Flesh Prevails by Fallujah, and indicates very early on that Wormhole are being ambitious on this latest effort.

It's perhaps due to these early promising signs that I ultimately find myself slightly disappointed by my overall sentiments towards Almost Human. There are still some slam riffs wedged into the opening parts of the record, but later in the tracklist they become a more dominant factor, particularly on a song such as “Data Fortress Orbital Stationary”. My own misgivings towards the genre certainly have to be accounted for, as I imagine a reviewer more fond of slam would get more out of the latter songs (it’s a shame Troy is on one of his hiatuses). Still, it’s unfortunate that Wormhole demonstrate situations in which slam riffs can mingle alongside more vibrant technical riffing in a way that is mutually beneficial, but ultimately end up front-loading a lot of those ideas and leaving the latter stages of Almost Human without those dissonant or melodic cues.

More than the instrumentation, though, it is the vocals that hinder Wormhole in trying to ascend to a higher level. New vocalist Julian Kersey delivers a fairly monotonous performance rigidly bound to the gargled gutturals so strongly associated with slam; it’s an extreme vocal style that I’ve never been particularly fond of, but it does at least fit the aesthetic for bands that play a very conventional brutal death style. In the case of Wormhole, however, it’s peculiar that they integrate so much range instrumentally but remain static in vocal approach; if it was me, I’d get rid of the gargles altogether in favour of a more visceral growling style, but at the very least I think Kersey should try and confine these gutturals to the slam portions of the album and shake up his approach in the more divergent sections of songs.

At the end of the day, Wormhole are breathing fresh air into slam, and Almost Human offers quite a bit to enjoy for those who normally struggle to engage with the genre. Still, old habits die hard, and I do feel that overcoming expectations for how slam vocals should sound would do a lot for allowing the band’s music to reach its full potential. A future effort that expands on the more experimental elements of this release and how they can work in synchrony with the band’s inherent brutality, while also mixing things up vocally, could potentially be spectacular.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 7
Production: 7

Written on 28.09.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 1   Visited by: 61 users
29.09.2023 - 02:51
Coconut Racecar

I would consider slam/brutal death to be the primary genres I listen to, so here's my two cents.

It isn't a genre that I ever expect to do something unique or impressive. Like B-Horror movies, it's sheer entertainment value and stupid fun. It's like a cup of coffee that energizes me but doesn't command my attention to the flavor.

Vocals are a big hill for people to climb. In my experience, people who don't like metal can never get by harsh vocals of even "normal" Death Metal. The same can be said of metalheads when listening to Slam/Brutal Death. It's grating and flat for people who already view the genre as being uninteresting. For those of us that love it however, the vocals are often what separates one band from another. It's like an instrument rather than a voice, and every voice has a uniqueness to its performance. It isn't meant to stand out from the rhythm so much as it is a part of it, flowing alongside the drums and guitars rather than apart from them.

I don't think vocals make or break the genre, but I do think bands like Wormhole walk a fine line between Slam/Brutal Death and Death Metal/Deathcore/Tech. The genre isn't flexible, but there's a lot of room for personality. Adding more technicality and/or melody steps outside the genre pretty quickly and keeping the vocals is, in my opinion, the only thing keeping it in the realm of Slam/Brutal Death.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think changing this would be a bad thing nor do I have a problem with people not liking it. Even as someone who passionately loves gurgling, gargling toilet vocals I am very aware of their repellant nature. But do they have to be the kind of thing that people see as a blemish on an otherwise great performance?

I very much love the stupid fun of this genre. Themes, vocal styles, production quality, atmosphere believe it or not, and samples and sound effects are all things that bring a personality to a style that is basically defined by simplicity. I love what bands like; Wormhole, Afterbirth and Artificial Brain are doing, but even more I love bands like; Nithing, Splattered, and Rendered Helpless for staying very true to their sound while still doing something unique.

I see it like this- imagine a band like Cannibal Corpse keeping their vocals but changing their style to Post-Hardcore. The vocals don't fit at all, but their sound is now very accessible and they've done a great job with it. That's what Wormhole is becoming. Alternatively, imagine Cannibal Corpse stays as they are but now have occasional symphonics in the background and often build atmosphere before going full force in to the heaviest parts of a song. That's what Rendered Helpless did with their last album, "Suffer, Seraphim".
I love both, but I prefer the latter.

What I've written is very much a personal take on why I think people struggle with the genre and how I view it as it is. I've honestly never spoken to someone else who loves it, or even likes it, so I wouldn't read too much in to this. I just wanted to share my thoughts on a genre I love very dearly and have been listening to for many years.

I agree very much with a lot of what's been said in this review, and I especially appreciate you being open minded.

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