Hellripper - Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (Cover Artwork)


Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (2023)


When I first heard Hellripper, a mere 2 1/2 years ago upon the release of The Affair of the Poisons, I initially thought that the blackened thrash stylings of Hellripper’s mastermind James McBain were occasionally inspired, but also had some of the trappings that come with one-man metal projects all too frequently. Archaic production being chief among them. But then I found myself coming back to it. A lot. And have continued to do so ever since it was released. I also subsequently realised that James has been making Hellripper music since 2014, he took it on the road utilising an ever-willing group of touring band members and had quietly been amassing an army of loyal followers (AKA ‘The Cult of the Goat’). Hellripper had also featured on bills with some of the great and the good (should that be the grim and the bad?) of the more occult end of the metal spectrum as well as playing their own shows. I was lucky enough to catch Hellripper at 2021’s Damnation Festival set in Leeds, UK. If I liked them before, then that show focused my attention on them even more keenly.

We arrive then at this new album. 8 tracks across 40 minutes. So there’s the first clue. The last record was the same number of tracks and more than 10 minutes shorter. This is where James has made a mockery of another initial assumption I had. Namely, that with a one-man project (insofar as writing is concerned, at least) it is sometimes difficult for acts to develop significantly as composers and writers. But James evidently hasn’t had any such issue. Although there are plenty of balls-to-the-wall speed/black/thrash metal bangers available here (“Goat Vomit Nightmare” being an absolute cast-iron example of how to write one of those), James has ventured into the more epic, folk-tinged heavy metal arena on more than one occasion on this record. And more than that, he has absolutely nailed it at the first time of asking. Where the needle-sharp guitar tone of the last record made such compositions seem out of reach, the sumptuous production on Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags makes the transition seem like an almost obvious step. James’ knack for melody has always been there, but the utilisation of it now is so much more involved, nuanced and grand. It’s odd. There is a progginess, but also a majesty to McBain’s writing when he wants to draw on it. It’s worth reminding ourselves at this point that I’m writing about a blackened thrash/speed metal record.

I did wonder if James or The Hellripper project would pivot from what I had perceived as being the relatively slim parameters of their oeuvre in order to satisfy any creative curiosity but that simple hasn’t been necessary. In the hands of Hellripper, a sub-genre that seemed limited through its own specificity has shown itself to have a great deal more room for manoeuvre than I had imagined. And in a world where getting your dose of the occult in aural form often means sacrificing production, modernity or quality, I am delighted that Hellripper are spreading their black, webbed wings and soaring to new heights whilst never spiritually leaving the 7th circle of hell.