WWWOORRRMMHOOLLE! YES. I don’t think you frail humans understand how much I love Wormhole, okay? I spin their debut Genesis enough that, in retrospect, it’s one of my favorite recordings from 2016. Between insanely catchy songs and Duncan Bentley’s and Calum Forrest’s ridiculous vocals and perfectly executed Spongebob Squarepants and Spaceballs samples (see “Existence Gap” for my favorite example), I was smitten. When I saw them live with their current lineup during 2019’s fantastic Tech Trek, my heart, among other things, throbbed for more Wormhole. Lo and behold, The Weakest Among Us beckons. I heed its guttural cry.
Karen, Plankton’s computer wife, defines “seaweed” as, and I quote, “50% sea, 50% weed.” I define Wormhole as “50% worm, 50% hole,” where “worm” represents tech-death and “hole” represents slam. I rarely encounter genre-blending bands who can evenly balance the weight each constituent style bears upon their respective sounds, but Wormhole might be the first to find a perfect 50/50 distribution. Moreover, despite possessing trace genetic material inherited from progenitors ranging between Gutalax and Vulvodynia to Blade of Horus to Augury and even Artificial Brain, Wormhole still sounds only like Wormhole.
That’s quite a feat, especially considering key lineup changes that occurred between albums one and two. Duncan Bentley and Calum Forrest no longer participate in Wormhole affairs. Instead, Perihelion‘s Anshuman Goswami drags our spines out of our slippery orifices with his subterranean expulsions, and while he might not be as versatile or coherent as Bentley, he’s a better fit for the band’s sound. A human drummer (Matt Tillett) beats genuine skins this time, too, which improves the rhythm section by orders of magnitude compared to the programmed debut (“Quad MB”). Lastly, the addition of session bassist Alex Weber offers an entirely new sound for the low end (“D-S3”).
There can be no doubt that Wormhole is not the same entity it was in 2016, but two very related things haven’t changed one bit. Brothers Sanil and Sanjay Kumar remain highly capable guitarists with an innate ability to carve chunky slams out of the tech-death bedrock. A classic Spongebob Squarepants sample—a Wormhole release is incomplete without at least one—kicks off a gargantuan riff in “rA9_myth,” the energy from which sustains throughout. “D-S3” and closer “Ingswarm” merge Artificial Brain-esque disso-melodies with riffs that could have made a home on a mutated Terra Incognita, each supplemented with unexpected counterpoint by the bass guitar. “The Gas System” illustrates the founding members’ concrete sense of pacing, keeping their licks in the sweet spot while Tillett keeps the whole enchilada in the hot pocket. “Ultrafrigid” even ventures towards something resembling the neoclassical, but not so close that it becomes an outlier, and again immensely benefits from Weber’s smooth bass tone. The end result is a tight 28 minutes of fervent tech-slam.
There’s something nagging at me about The Weakest Among Us, though. I haven’t figured out what the cause is yet, but this album feels like a step down from its predecessor. Maybe it’s the compressed—but not heavily limited, as the numerical DR value might suggest1—master, which renders everything a touch flat for my tastes. Maybe it’s the hypermodern atmosphere, which is as polished and clinical as Squidward’s dystopian, chrome-laden FUTURE. It might just be that the record isn’t as immediate or memorable as Genesis was. Certain riffs appear generic as well (see “Wave Quake Generator Plasma Artillery Cannon”), especially when compared to the tsunami of kick-ass bops inundating Genesis, which certainly doesn’t help Wormhole in the never-ending battle against the infamous sophomore slump.
Nonetheless, the blinding intensity of my love for this band clouds my judgment. I can’t help it. I find so few modern tech-slam bands compelling, but Wormhole and Blade of Horus, and by extension Vulvodynia (though I’m not sure they tech enough to qualify) exude that intangible quality which sets them apart. The Weakest Among Us boasts lesser initial impact than Genesis, but I expect it to gain traction in my listening rotation as time passes. In a word, WWWOOOORRRRMMMHHOOOLLLE!