Abuse – Wormrot’s out of nowhere, totally unexpected slab of staggering awesomeness (from Singafuckingpore of all places, ferchrissakes) – was a magical, transcendental moment in 2009 and touchstone for grindcore's future. It was like seeing Haley’s Comet, stumbling on Brigadoon or Brian Burke showing restraint and not blowing up the Maple Leafs’ lineup at the trading deadline: It just wasn’t the kind of thing you expected to see in your lifetime. And without any scene buzz in advance, nothing could prepare you for it.
While it may be unfair to them, everything Wormrot does must be measured against that early pinnacle – at least until they can top it. Dirge, unfortunately, isn't that album. It is an extremely good album, but Abuse was a great album.
Dirge is a bristling, slavering old school 18 minutes of unsubtle aggression and abrasive annihilation, but it just doesn’t quite straddle the divide between adrenaline junkie and catchy riff earjaculation (thanks, Bill, told you I was stealing that term) as effortlessly as Abuse. Dirge sacrifices memorability on the altar of unrelenting speed and migraine-inducing noise. In fact, it feels overly self conscious and more than a tad safe, as though the sudden explosion of attention had gotten to them. There are fewer songs here that will mug you in a dark alley the way “Fuck…I’m Drunk,” “Murder” or “Born Stupid” roughed you up. That’s compounded by a compression to the mix - possibly an artifact of the band's ridiculously short/punk as fuck recording session - that smashes the guitars into the cymbals, making it hard to latch on to the riffs (especially in a squashed mp3 format; physical formats fare better). But all the other familiar Wormrot elements are prominently pimped out for your enjoyment: the sarcastic humor ("You Suffer But Why is it My Problem" now joins the pantheon of "Seth Putnam is Wrong About a Lot of Things But Seth Putnum is Right About You" as one of my favorite song titles ever) and symbiotic interplay between Rasyid and Fitri (guitar and drums) is on a telepathic level at this point, which frees up frontman Arif to yap and slaver like a poorly socialized pitbull guarding his yard.
Dirge rocks really hard, and I don’t want this to sound overly negative – I’ve spent three months trying to sort out my feelings about this album, assessing whether my unreasonable expectations were at fault. Dirge will certainly blow your hair back and holds its own against the rest of the field in a really crowded year. There’s just that unquantifiable quintessence that’s missing.
If you need any more convincing, Earache is giving the album away as a free download.
[Full disclosure: I bought my copy as soon as it came out, but after I wrote this post and had it queued up Earache sent me both the LP and CD/DVD versions.]