In the rust and rabble that was the year 2020, there were occasional glimpses of light, even if that “light” came in the form of some righteous old school blackened speed metal. For it was then that I came – admittedly late – to the wonders of James McBain, the one-man sonic disruptor otherwise known as Hellripper. The Affairs of the Poisons was a blistering set of tunes that checked all the boxes: dashes of Venom and Motörhead with liberal sprinklings of early Bathory and NWOBHM. So I was on the watch for whatever came next. Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags is here, and my surprise is not on the tracks where McBain sticks to his tried and true formula, but where he stretches into new territory. It’s good stuff. so let’s get into it.
Songs like opener “The Nuckelavee,” “Goat Vomit Nightmare” and “The Hissing Marshes” continue delving into the legends and folklore of McBain’s home country of Scotland, and everything you would expect based on previous Hellripper releases is there: wicked speed metal riffs that ram ahead accompanied by the staccato rhythm of drums, little bass, and anguished vocals that tow the line for the more blackened influences. And it’s fine. It’s nothing new, but it keeps the momentum flowing and doesn’t feel out of place. If you want some knuckle scraping, denim-clad fighting metal, you got it.
But, and here’s the thing…
Check out the title track. At over seven minutes Hellripper starts bringing in some of those new influences, letting the musical ideas breathe. And. They. Are. Fantastic. I found myself over and over again thinking about how much some of the musical ideas wouldn’t be out of place on an Iron Maiden album. Or a Mercyful Fate record. You can start to hear this immediately on the opener. “The Nuckelavee” has a fine, driving opening riff, but then the second riff comes in and it lays waste with that single note accentuating the palm muted attack. The first half of “The Cursed Carrion Crown” boasts some of the fastest metal McBain’s committed to tape (or vinyl, or digital…I assume he uses the skin of toads and a sigil of fire to make the tunes), but then at the halfway point the song modulates key and turns into a classic Maiden song, complete with harmonized guitars. Power metal start creeping in, and you realize that left unfettered Hellripper can pretty much do anything. Closing track “Mester Stoor Worm” has so much going on in its almost nine-minute runtime you’re hard pressed to digest it all in one listen…good thing it’s so damn good you’re going to immediately replay it.
It’s a weird critique, but the fact remains: the new, longer songs are so damn good that the more typical speed attack of the shorter tunes have a harder time making the same kind of impression. Nothing is bad on Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags; in fact everything is quite good. It’s just that some of the stuff is more “quite good” and having had a taste I really want more of that sir, please and thank you.
That’s a nice problem to have, I think. Now grab this record and rip some Hell.
Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags is available now on Peaceville Records. For more information on Hellripper, check out their website, Facebook and Instagram pages.