In the well-padded and often insight-free void of ‘blackened’ heavy metal even the most clever gimmickry fails in the hands of once fashionable fools who’d rise self-serving toward the black metal zeitgeist only to end up with a negative bank account and a collection of fairweather fans. Simple as any form or niche of music can be to replicate, one can only feign interest so long before the money in any potential market inevitably shits its bed and moves out. There are plenty of great black/speed metal bands that crop up every year and it becomes easier to spot the riffless, Miller Lite turds as there isn’t much to hide behind in such an obsessively retro field of view, featuring maybe a handful of true monuments to die-hard style. The last decade finds a lot of those first wave black/speed metal bands ‘big’ names twisting their forms towards early Voivod neon drunkenness and a wealth of ‘crust’ punk hybridization who you’d think had used a goddamn Spotify playlist to discover the genre. Aberdeen, Scotland antichrist James McBain (Lord Rot, ex-Rats of Reality, Lock Howl) continues unabated and yet sticks to his guns in terms of style and self-reliant creation with his steadily achieved black/speed metal project Hellripper. Here on ‘Black Arts & Alchemy’ we’re treated to a rabid slaughter of the pious by way of sinister thrashing darkness seemingly conjured from a 1983 Bay Area house party.
McBain‘s digs were average as hell to begin with and his first EP ‘Manifestation of Evil’ (2015) kinda rode the wave that bands like Midnight and Whipstriker were signal-boosting after Toxic Holocaust had more or less gone quiet. I’m not just being a dick for the sake of it but to contrast that bland EP with the damn promising, and wildly entertaining spark of concentrated speed metal yout’ juice that was ‘Coagulating Darkness’ (2017). That debut full-length might not have changed the world but, it was one of the more inspired interpretations of black/thrash through the eyes of pre-‘Ride the Lightning’ speed metal that I’d heard in a while, alongside Bewitcher‘s debut the year previous. There was room for improvement and without question McBain has taken the time to tailor ‘Black Arts & Alchemy’ with past successes and failures in mind.
Hailing the goat as he rides in sounding like ‘Power and Pain’ if recorded in Darkthrone‘s basement, Hellripper immediately invokes the spastic energy of speed metal with all of it channeled into a mockery of the cross and a mutilation of all Christian figurehead. The approach may be inherently ‘standard’ but in opening with simple, fast-ripping forms the feeling of speed metal is invoked in a very real way. That is the dragon most fans are chasing, the kick in the neck that ‘Show No Mercy’ or ‘Kill ’em All’ gave us before we could figure out what was going on, and that is the best any speed metal band can aim for on a short record. Of course there is the layer of Sacrifice or Bathory-esque terror in the vocals to offer differentiation and McBain has put in some practice in terms of tightening his riff game while still invoking the style of ’85 speed metal a la ‘Nightmare Theater’ and (more appropriately) the Mötorhead-soaked ‘The Day of Wrath’. I’m not gonna say it is a shred album but you don’t often see such bold swipes of Whiplash and early Megadeth (see: bridge of “Headless Angels”) thrown in with black/speed metals typical d-beaten kicks. Obviously figure your own associations as a fan of classic thrash/speed metal but the overall amped up attack is there all the same.
As a thirteen minute strike upon the bell for things to come ‘Black Arts & Alchemy’ is a solid reminder of how much energy that one dude in Scotland brings to his craft and that you might look forward to the inevitable second full-length. The blasphemy, art, and riffs all work for me though I don’t know if I ever reached the point of craving so much as admiration for the energetic rip of it all. Moderately high recommendation. For preview I’d say “Decrepit Christ” hits and tears it up enough for the right way to introduce yourself to this record but I also gravitated towards “Headless Angels” and found myself leaving it on repeat here and there.
The envoys of Hell. 4.0/5.0
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