The reignited interest in distinctly eighties-sounding metal styles, and more specifically, the thrash revival of the 2000s, has brought with it a handful of blistering new acts, alongside a slew of respectable releases from its originators. However, as a general scene, it has also suffered from a lack of innovation and compositional creativity. Often bands of this scene are perfectly content to just emulate classic sounds long-established by Sodom, Kreator, Venom, Bathory, and Slayer. Oftentimes, I find it a dull guessing game of which thrash bands are being ripped off whenever I listen to these bands. But there are nevertheless a handful of acts that in addition to paying tribute to the old guard’s sound manage to capture that fury, excitement, and blasphemous spirit of heavy music during the proto-extreme metal era. James McBain, the singular creative force behind Hellripper, clearly loves the style of first wave black metal and Teutonic thrash but is also creative enough to blend them to create something that sounds completely fresh. The result here is The Affair of the Poisons (Peaceville Records), a sophomore effort to the more straightforward Coagulating Darkness, and a release of blackened thrash/speed metal fury that will leave you yearning even more for a destructive live experience in 2020.
The album begins as every great thrash album since Hell Awaits usually does, with some suspenseful, mid-paced opening riffage before punching you in the face with some up-tempo Motörhead worship and truly ravenous vocals. What makes this, the title track, a particularly great thrash metal song, other than its speed, is the fact that James avoids focusing on that one element and a handful of memorable riffs. Even the parts in between the chorus (which by the way, has an awesome hook; “Hail the eternal one!”) are just as blood-soaked and engagingly furious. The follow-up, “Spectres of the Blood Moon Sabbath”, keeps up that blackened speed ferocity. It is a song about worshipping Satan, of course, and it feels utterly earnest in that respect thanks to the conviction and savagery of James’ voice, which makes Hellripper sound more dangerous than any trite, run-of-the-mill black metal band ever could.
“Vampire’s Grave” and “Beyond the Convent Walls” follow suit, the former of which features some killer soloing throughout, keeping up that verse, chorus, verse style of the previous song while also completely owning that structure, harkening back to the early greats of Motorhead and Venom. I can see this one being an absolute barn-burner live, though that can also be said of “Beyond”, which is decidedly faster and brings blistering riffage that recalls the glory days of Sodom and Kreator’s early Teutonic triumphs. It’s a razor-sharp piece of thrash that perfectly walks the line of being both brutal and melodic, like all of the best examples of the genre. The pounding drums and notably loud crashing of the cymbals shine throughout the record but I particularly liked the groove found on this song’s bridge before James comes in with another great solo, which does more than fill time before the final chorus. “Savage Blasphemy” follows suit and while I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a bad song by any means, it is probably the most generic sounding on the record. It has some Dani Filth-esque shrieks on some of the verse sections which I found pretty endearing, though generally, the song is about what you’d expect.
Okay, so “Hexennacht” is my favorite song on the album. James finds an infectious groove with this one pretty early, with some explosive riffs that leave you grinding your teeth into dust. Accompanying this carnage with some fucking awesome wordplay, perfectly capturing the Satanic charm of the band’s biggest influences during a killer pre-chorus. “Insidious, lascivious. They spurn the words of Christ. The mass of the nefarious, upon this bloody night”. The spitting of “Hexennacht” on the chorus is in equal parts, absolutely fist-pumping. “Blood Orgy of the She-Devils”, outside of having the best name for a song I’ve heard this year, is a welcome break more reminiscent of speed metal than thrash, with melodies that sound more notably righteous than the aural onslaught the record has offered us up until this point, and is very much in line with James’ celebratory cries of the titular “She-devils”, though it remains every bit as earnestly blasphemous as the songs before it. Meanwhile, “The Hanging Tree” is a curious closer that opens with a distinctly Satyricon, Black n’ Roll-esque intro before quickly finding its way into the blackened punk stylings you’d expect, aptly bringing full circle a bit of Discharge influence to an album that is surely one of this year’s speed/thrash metal highlights.
Overall, this album sounds like a true celebration of speedy, shouty, Satan-worshipping insanity that draws from a variety of old school influences without ever falling into instantly recognisable derivativeness. There is an earnestness and appreciation here for a variety of old-school metal soundscapes that Hellripper waves the flag for with style, and crucially, punch. A more varied, but equally as enjoyable follow-up to Coagulating Darkness, Hellripper is a project that has truly earned the name.
Buy the album here: https://hellripper.bandcamp.com/album/the-affair-of-the-poisons
8 / 10