Since 1991, not counting an extended hiatus, Ringworm have belted out a hybrid of hardcore, thrash and death metal with a frenetic energy that’s nearly unparalleled. On their eighth full length — counting a live album — Snake Church the band doesn’t stray far from this formula. And for the most part that’s a good thing, fans of the band know what to expect and newcomers will either love it or hate it. But after this many years Ringworm could care less. It’s always been about the thrill of the moment, the bruise you got in the pit or the black eye kind of feeling their music illicits.
Hardcore, when good, can be extremely satisfying. It’s the quick bursts and the vicious attitude behind it that can chase the demons away. However, when there’s no feeling or urgency found within, it falls flat very quickly. Ringworm have always fell in the former category and particularly so during their early days. Birth Is Pain sticks out to this day as an album that is angry, vicious and with a raw enough feeling that the recorded content precisely mirrored their live shows. Furthermore it had an honest danger that snaked its way through every drum blast and knife edge guitar chord. As good of an album as later era Scars was, it was right around then the band introduced a melodic touch that while executed well it just didn’t quite fit their DNA. The edge slipped just a bit and the rawness started to have a polished feel to it. Then on Hammer Of the Witch the band figured out how to use this melody to their advantage while bringing back that smash your head against the wall attack.
Fast forward to now and at least in execution not much has changed. And speaking of not much changing is James ‘Human Furnace’ Bulloch’s voice. This far along it’s truly amazing this man can still sound as harrowing as he can. What was heard on their debut The Promise is what can be heard here, some 23 years later. And surprisingly, he sounds better and angrier if that’s even possible. Now on to the music, the momentum reached on the aforementioned Hammer Of the Witch is not continued here. That’s not to say it’s not hard anymore but it is to say the edge has been dulled. If not for Bulloch and the punk driven percussive blasts “Fear the Silence” would sound like mid range melodic death metal. Much the same could be said for “The Apparition” so thankfully the Human Furnace is still as fiery as ever to save these tracks from going completely stale.
Fear not though, the album has a few moments of pure fist contacting teeth aggression. Once the title track shakes the opening minute or so of Lamb Of Godesque ambience it is a ripper, raw and completely in your face. Later on “The Black Light Of A Living Ghost” not only does this same approach hold true but there’s a bevy of brawny guitar soloing as well as an absolutely brutal bass line right in the middle of the track. And “Destroy Or Create” brings back the band’s early days when they were pissed off at everything and everyone, truly one of the highlights. With all that said, one of the biggest remnants of this effort, after multiple spins, is that there’s a lot of moments where the band sound like a cross between Hatebreed and Pantera, which technically isn’t a bad thing but it’s not what we’ve come to expect from the almighty Ringworm. The good moments here are great and the bad moments sound like a band simply going through the motions.
Ringworm go the safe route of sticking to what they know and not deviating from their core formula on Snake Church. But much of the band’s rawness is lost and as a whole the album seems more like a need to get an album out rather than a skull crusher to add to their storied history. Unfortunately there’s not enough fire to call this album the penultimate version of Ringworm. To put it plain, if you’re a fan of the band you will enjoy this album but if you prefer the raucousness of their last album, or their earlier efforts, you will revel sparingly.