How does one properly describe a band like Hissing; a band whose entire mission statement is expertly defying categorization and pushing the very limits of what constitutes music itself? For the first time in a while, I find myself almost at a loss for words as to what to say to kick this thing off, so maybe we should just get into it: Seattle, WA’s Hissing are back with their sophomore release Hypervirulence Architecture, and if you’ve never checked out this band before, you literally have no idea what you are in for, but I would argue that’s a feature, not a bug.
The trio of Hissing (Zach Wise on bass and vocals, Joe O’Malley on guitar and Sam Pickel on drums and percussion) got their start in 2014, with the goal of “mutilating sounds and exploring the outer limits of black and death metal,” which might tell you enough of what to expect of Hypervirulence Architecture and their first-full length Permanent Destitution (not to mention the plethora of splits and Eps they have under their name). Permanent Destitution saw a lot of buzz generated, and while the band took that in stride and used the momentum to do a small run of shows, on Hypervirulence Architecture, Hissing look to push the boundaries into “more nightmarish, trance-inducing, mercurial, and mind-altering sonic dominions.” I mean…one listen to Hypervirulence and the phrase “Mission Accomplished” unironically comes to mind. There is no succinct way to accurately describe the sounds that come at you when you hit play. It is certainly blackened death metal, but it is also highly experimental, extremely dissonant, borderline atonal, supremely weird, and yes, totally engrossing if you give it a proper chance.
Hypervirulence Architecture is an album that assaults you from the moment you turn it on. There is no soft intro or chance to get ready, “Cells of Nonbeing” launches right into a furious and downright disgusting mix of slippery guitar riffs, lumbering bass and throbbing drums that never seems to be locked down. Just when you think Hissing are going to zig, they zag on you. For the uninitiated, it can be very jarring and disorienting, but again…that’s kinda the point. Listening to this album makes me feel nauseous, and I’m perfectly okay with that. However, the sickening waves come from the musical choices the band makes, not from the aesthetic and production choices, which is a huge plus for Hypervirulence. There’s a very real pitfall waiting for bands who make ambitious choices in their music such as Hissing to have the whole thing turn out to be a sonic mess where everything bleeds into each other and you just get an overwhelming mess. Not so with Hypervirulence: the production quality is the album’s biggest strength and the thing that lends itself very well to the overall atmosphere of the album. Each piece of the puzzle stands out on its own and builds into something bigger than itself while still retaining its integrity. The guitar riffs are able to be recognized as guitars, and that makes the melodic choices all the more important to the disorienting effect they have. Similarly, the bass actually stands out in the mix, and the bass tone is a serious contributor to the overall vibes as well, but I think my favorite parts of Hypervirulence have to be the spurts of percussion work thrown in by Pickel. In almost a sort of Silent Hill way, they increase the tension by slowing things down, allowing *too* much space and creating an eerie atmosphere where…something isn’t right. And that’s kinda the whole of Hypervirulence: something isn’t quite right but man is this cool.
When I say I like unique bands, it usually means bands that push two disparate genres together and make it work, but a band like Hissing, that almost completely breaks apart death metal and puts it back together, but wrong (to borrow from the great Nathan Explosion), are a rare breed indeed, and Hypervirulence Architecture is a rare album. There is truly nothing else out there that sounds quite like it, and if you’re in the right headspace, this is an album that is deeply interesting and insanely inspiring.