Written by: Blackie Skulless
Ever since The Affair Of The Poisons dropped in 2020, I’ve been saying Hellripper are due for an alteration in sound, as the black/thrash genre can run stale fairly quickly if action isn’t taken. Boy, did they ever deliver! Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags came in clutch, completely blowing away anything they'd done prior to this album. This isn’t to say that McBain’s brand was never good, it was great; but this was exactly what the latest recipe called for!
First, it’s important to address the fact that the foundation isn’t lost at all. Longtime fans should still find the appeal; “Goat Vomit Nightmare” makes this quite obvious. However, now the blackened element is laid on in a fashion far more in line with the traditional tropes of the black metal genre. When it isn’t running in that vein, more melodic leads are clearer than they’ve ever been. Speed metal still exists, but it is no longer the backbone needed to carry the entire album. Instead, it’s a nice feature along with these other notable traits.
With this comes longer songs. There are still eight tracks, but instead of breezing by in under thirty minutes, you get something with several layers. Opener “The Nuckelavee” lets this on immediately, hitting every corner expressed in the prior paragraph. Transitions from idea to idea flow smoother than butter, which likely plays into the newfound level of clarity in these songs. “I, The Deceiver” swings from showers of atmosphere crossed with blasting drums and doomy chugs into melody-oriented rhythms beautifully. Yet, even the ones that stick to the old ways harder like “Poison Womb” or “The Hissing Marshes” feel refined and refreshing.
That leaves us with the most glaring trait, and this is the fact that Hellripper isn’t afraid to use the aforementioned doomier moments as a full foundation. The title track reigns in epic flavors and terrorizing buildup in a way that the band has never done before. Not only is that a neat change of pace, but the wailing leads added give this traditional, first-wave vibes. And that softer interlude with dissonant vocals before the breakdown-type collapse solo? Unstoppable! Closer “Mester Stoor Worm” stretches these boundaries even further, and experimentation with growling vocals is let on harder than ever. “The Cursed Carrion Crown” treads traditional metal ground, working in rock ‘n roll integrity with Iron Maiden-oriented leads.
So yeah, it’s safe to say that Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags checks several new boxes, and elaborates on several prior hints to new levels. McBain hasn’t had a bad release to his name, yet this feels like a complete reinvention that holds onto the shedded skin. If you took the foundations for Vulcano, Iron Maiden, Seax, and Sacrementum, grabbed ingredients from each, and put them together in a competent way, you’d end up with this album. Easily recommended to any metal fan, regardless of genre preference.
Hellripper - Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags was released Feb. 17th, 2023 via Peaceville Records. Find it here!
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.