Hellripper’s highly-anticipated Black Arts & Alchemy EP released a few weeks ago. People have been spinning this one a lot lately, and for good reason. Here’s a look at this Scottish lad’s newest handful of speedy blasphemous anthems.
Hellripper has been permeating within the underground over the course of the past couple of years. Solo project of James McBain, the man has been dealing out evil black/thrash tunes since his debut EP in 2015, The Manifestation of Evil. For fans of early Bathory, Germany’s Ketzer, and other gritty speed metal acts to the likes of Bewitcher and Speedwolf.
Black/thrash holds an interesting place within the realm of distortion and screaming. Initially popularized by early extreme metal acts to the likes of Celtic Frost, Venom, and Sabbat, the specific sound seemed to disappear when the above bands started experimenting with newer sounds in the late ‘80s. Black/thrash seemed to sink down to the depths of the underground for the time being, up until metal’s so-called “resurrection” back around 2008. With scene trends like grunge, nu-metal, and metalcore now out of the way, sounds that used to live and die within the golden age now seemed to pop up around the globe, steadily growing ‘til today.
This particular sound, known for its blend of gritty barking vocals, shorter song lengths, jumpy party-hard attitude, and weirdly fitting bluesy guitar solos, seemed to thrive within this new era for the genre. As mentioned above, bands like Ketzer and Toxic Holocaust pioneered this awakening, with Celtic Frost worship groups popping up like crazy.
Hellripper slowly grew out of James’ basement, and it has been a pleasure to see the project grow to where it is today. While I believe that Hellripper is still a production completely out of James’ brain, he now plays shows with live members around Europe. Even though the band isn’t anywhere near being on the cusp of major recognition, at least for the next couple of years, they’re certainly well on track. This hasn’t been without hard work however, as Hellripper’s Metal Archives discography page shows. Since 2015, Hellripper has fostered a steady release of material, including EPs, splits, and a compilation, with one full-length. All have seen respectable praise. Let’s see how Black Arts & Alchemy fares.
For what the EP lacks in material, it certainly makes up for in quality and established flair. With only twelve minutes between the runout and needle drop, prior to release I expected something a little more from the EP in terms of flavour, as generic black/thrash doesn’t really get me going. Luckily for us, there’s a healthy mix of newfound flair and originality here, all placed on top of Hellripper’s delightful sound that we all know and love.
Hellripper seems to have kept the fast black/thrash core of their sound on Black Arts & Alchemy. We still have anthems like “All Hail the Goat” that wouldn’t be out of place on radio queue at your local dive bar, with James’ raspy vocals and hard-hitting sonic attitude purveying through your speakers. However, Black Arts & Alchemy seems to feature a lot more playful guitar breaks where the maniacal assault of percussion and screaming comes to a coordinated halt in place of a little flair. There are a few instances on the EP where James puts on some bluesy, almost medieval-sounding guitar licks that control the mix for a few repetitions until the other instruments come back in. These interjections accomplish two things: they keep the tracks interesting and diverse with the time signature changes, while also stamping the material with a thematic flair. I know it’s cheesy for the music style at hand, but these portions just sound downright evil, but oddly fun at the same time. They’re also implemented very well into the song structures at hand.
In terms of unique notable qualities other than this particular change, there aren’t too many. This is more-so to do with the subgenre at hand, of course, as black/thrash bands tend to stick within whatever flavour of devilish output they prefer. Hellripper has turned a friendly face towards the punkier side of things with this new output, but it’s still Hellripper. I predict a strong, steady, and predictably-enjoyable career for our Scottish friend, to which everyone will welcome with open arms, I’m sure. But hey, prove me wrong, right?
This is another strong release. Make sure to pick up the new t-shirt design and vinyl copy, it has a cool etched design on Side B.