What mysteries and miracles await where indomitable darkness meets the unrelenting fury of galloping guitars? The answer may be found in the dark hymns offered by blackened speed metal act Hellripper. With third full-length album “Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags,” Hellripper summons a maelstrom of shadows split by the lightning of electric guitar and thunderous percussion.
Hellripper is an inconceivable beast that has well-earned its sulphuric name, as James McBain – the single man at the Hellripper helm – masterfully meshes the fury of speed metal beneath a blackened cloak. Hailing from Scotland’s Northern Isles, McBain began to garner serious attention in 2017 with Hellripper’s debut album “Coagulating Darkness.” This excellence was proven to be more than a fluke with the release of the exceptional sophomore album “The Affair of Poisons” in 2020. The full Hellripper discography is incomplete without mention of the compilation album “Complete and Total f**ing Mayhem” from 2016. It is also incomplete without taking a cursory glance at McBain’s involvement in other projects, which span from death metal in Lord Rot to raw black metal in Rats of Reality, and also includes touches of gothic post-punk with Lock Howl. There is little question that McBain is musically adept and artistically inspired, but it seems that Hellripper is his most concentrated and mature outlet yet.
It’s exciting to see an artist as talented and driven as McBain focusing his efforts on a flagship project, particularly when the project has such a splendid body of existing work, and when there are few others in the genre with such a strong sonic identity. Blackened speed metal is not as niche as it once had been, and Hellripper can’t even claim that it’s the first solo blackened speed metal outfit (just take a glance at US-based Midnight). But McBain delivers something special that other similar acts have not yet mastered: actually bringing black metal to the table. Decades of imitation have watered down the meaning of “black metal” when “black” is attached as a prefix to other genres, and it often comes to mean little more than harsh vocals and distorted guitars as a mere veneer on the genre that lies beneath. That’s not Hellripper, and it’s especially not “Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags.” “Warlocks Grim & Weathered Hags” is perhaps the heaviest work to come from Hellripper yet, as it leans further into black metal influences than its predecessors, and it shows an impressive leap in technical skill from McBain. This is notable from the opening notes of “The Nuckelavee,” its opening riff a brand of fire that could melt steel, and its drums could split the earth. “The Nuckelavee” is almost six minutes of pure, unadulterated black-speed fusion. The marriage of screaming guitars and McBain’s tormented howls paint a picture of unyielding despair, and effortlessly conjures images of the beastly demon the song is named for.
“I, The Deceiver” is another track on the album that wholeheartedly embraces the darkest elements of black metal while keeping the demanding pace of speed metal. Grim bass notes temper the fiery race across guitar strings, as do McBain’s isolated shrieks. “Mester Stoor Worm” adds to the splendor with a traditionally ominous hook before bursting into distorted guitar and furious blast beats. The layered screams are a brilliant display of composition and thoughtful songwriting, and the guttural shouts feel like they were pulled right from the burgeoning 90’s black metal scene. With this praise in mind, some of those darker elements could have taken a spot of greater prominence throughout the album to offer up greater variety. “I, Deceiver” showed excellent command over tempo and atmosphere in a way that some other tracks lacked. Further, the most black-metal oriented tracks appeared at opening and closing points of the album, leading to a touch of monotony at the album’s midpoint. Generally, however, “Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags” does a great job of engaging the listener throughout the album and across tracks that span from just three to nearly nine minutes long. This ability to add variation without departing from the album’s atmospheric core is again demonstrative of McBain’s songwriting skill. “Mester Stoor Worm” is an absolutely unmatched closing track, sweeping in like a nightmare made flesh and before destroying everything in its path. It is beautiful, ghastly, and bleak, particularly in the melancholic closing verse that strips away any remaining hope.
For all the talk of just how Hellripper incorporates darkness into the core of its being, there should also be attention paid to the technical proficiency that allows the sheer speed and intensity to succeed. “The Cursed Carrion Crown” feels as though it could set the sky ablaze just from McBain’s determination to shred at the speed of light. This track is yet another demonstration of his vocal range, here erring towards higher screeches rather than demonic howls. “Goat Vomit Nightmare” is a straightforward freight-train packed with blow after blow. As for “Poison Womb,” it seems to beg for an audience to clear a pit and wreak havoc at a live show.
McBain’s commitment to excellence is apparent throughout “Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags,” from the excellent production that leaves behind just the right amount of grit, and through the compact delivery that makes the album so digestible. There is a noticeable maturity to his evolution as Hellripper brings heaviness to the next level, and the same could be said for McBain’s own technical skills. Hellripper has taken a serious step up from “The Affair of Poisons,” both vocally and instrumentally, and McBain’s ambition is palpable. This latest opus is a brilliant combination of technical skill and artistic vision, and it should serve well to sate the appetites of extreme metal fans.
Release Date: February 17th, 2022
Record Label: Peaceville Records
Genre: Black / Speed Metal
- James McBain: All music and lyrics
- Joseph Quinlan: Additional Lead Guitar on ‘Poison Womb (The Curse of the Witch)’, ‘The Cursed Carrion Crown’ & ‘The Hissing Marshes’
- Marianne: Additional vocals on ‘The Cursed Carrion Crown’
- Antonio Rodríguez: Great Highland Bagpipes on ‘Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags’
“Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags” Track-list:
- The Nuckelavee 5:4
- I, The Deceiver 4:56
- Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags 7:15
- Goat Vomit Nightmare 3:16
- The Cursed Carrion Crown 5:47
- The Hissing Marshes 3:51
- Poison Womb (The Curse of the Witch) 3:43
- Mester Stoor Worm 8:32
Order “Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags” HERE
Hellripper is speed metal at its very darkest, and “Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags” captures the brutal desolation of black metal in a furious and shred-heavy tracklist. This is a must-listen for extreme metal fans looking to catch a talented artist who is as talented as he is visionary.