I firmly believe that you live through the music you grew up on, and you carry it with you in some shape or form, all the days of your life. So, with that in mind, anyone who spent their youth immersed and absorbed in the early days of the great thrash and death metal bands of the 80’s and 90’s will find a lot of common ground with James Mc Bain and his band Hellripper. Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags is his latest album, and has been released through the legendary Peaceville Records label. I mean, come on, the label alone is as iconic as any from those decades gone by, and it’s great to see them maintain their high standards when it comes to adding new music to their roster.
Inspired by the landscape and legends of the Scottish Highlands, James explores the darker side of Scotland’s ancient history and folklore on this record, and what he has delivered is a blistering array of black, thrash and death metal that is a joy for the ages. It’s ruthless and it’s merciless, but that’s the way it needs to be, so buckle up and take a nightmare stroll through the bleak Scottish wilderness with Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags
The Nuckelavee opens the album in a tirade of 80’s inspired riffs, tangled up in knots, smothered with savage shredding and pulverising drums. Showing claws as sharp as razor blades, the chorus hooks pierce the skin, unleashing a pain that is as melodic as it is intense. Gravel-choked vocals blister and spit out lyrics that plough through the melody, keeping the phrasing in near-tandem with the rhythm section, allowing space for those contorted lead solos to lay siege and almost race out of control with the sheer ferocity of the track. Never catching breath for a second, the melody and tempo takes on a black metal facade for the final two minutes of the track, leaving you in a twisted pile of body parts on the floor.
I, Deceiver holds within it, the magic and the mayhem of a filthy thrash onslaught combined with the speed and double bass battering of a black metal holocaust. So many influences race through my mind when listening to this track, ranging from bands like Amon Amarth to Mayhem. Its potency and compulsive tendencies make it one of my favourite tracks on the album. That’s followed by the brilliant title track, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags, a passage of music that’s laced with early Amorphis and In Flames styled melodics that quickly transcend into some blood stirring folk influences that make you want to stand tall, chant aloud and take on the world single handedly!
Something I haven’t alluded to yet on this review is the brilliantly graphic and deeply profound lyrics that are littered throughout this album. Take for example a snapshot from the opening track, The Nuckelavee, “Carving a pestilent trail of the dead, Dripping with poison, a vision of dread, Rattling the heavens, let evil be known, Rising from abyssal waters below Beware the monster - Devil o’ the sea The Nuckelavee” - spine tingling stuff!
Speed, pandemonium and a sprinkling of some old school death metal disorder awaits you on Goat Vomit Nightmare. It’s a track that literally breathes fire and burns everything in its path. Even through those scorching solos and acoustic breakdowns, the power and the pageantry levitate at fever pitch, right down to the very last drumbeat. A little nod to the Slayer, Angel of Death intro scream adorns The Cursed Carrion Crown’s opening sequence, but that’s where the similarity ends as the music literally rips through black, speed and death metal arrangements with gusto.
The energy and intensity continues right through the remaining three tracks, The Hissing Marshes, Poison Womb, and the closing track, Mester Stoor Worm. From the rallying cries on Poison Wombs, with its Motorhead on steroids vibes, right through to ferociously violent Mester Stoor Worm, Hellripper encompasses everything within the extreme music spectrum, and deliver it with utter depravity and vehemence. All that’s left to say here is go grab a copy of Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags as soon as you can and succumb the legacy and the lore of these vast Scottish Highlands.