Review Summary: On ‘The Affair Of The Poisons’ the band accidentally conjure the concept of a terrible beast; black fur in black night, blistering forward and only discernible by the crimson red of its wild eyes.
Metallica is tired. Its compositions feel like placeholders, its members look like AARP members and its general production standards feel like Fisher Price children's toys.
Hellripper, its agonized, bastard offspring, however, is not. The final product of riff revivalist James McBain, the band have made a nasty habit of combining that aforementioned band’s early penchant for fast, sharp and driving thrash-craft with pungent, purulent and powerful black metal, and, on the band’s second full length (but fifth overall), that dose of new blood proves potentially fatal.
The band’s 2017 effort, 'Coagulating Darkness', proved to be an especially effective proof of concept for the band moving forward. It had an absolutely intentionally chaotic mix, a consistently good set of blackened thrash assets, and a particularly impassioned vocal performance. TAOTP follows that formula while subtly mixing in its own particular ingredients.
The thrash feels more forward facing than ever, with the snarls and very seldom tremolo riffs adding most of the black metal insidiousness. The lyrics certainly lend an additional air of acridity, but TAOTP definitely feels less like the balancing act that was their ‘Black Arts And Alchemy’ EP, which released just a year ago. This marginal shift in power ends up giving the LP its own particular stamp in the Hellripper back-catalog, and staving off the monotony that most of the current lot of blackened thrash acts tend to very rapidly plunge into.
It certainly helps that the minute to minute songwriting is especially strong. McBain has always excelled at expunging any and all filler bits, but TAOTP feels especially vital in all aspects; individual passages are predisposed to peak, which make the actual takeoffs feel absolutely Olympian by comparison. "Vampire’s Grave"’s double bass-led pre-chorus feels almost electrically charged as its driving guitar parts make the preceding chorus feel like the best part of any Tony Hawk video game combo. "Hexennacht"’s instrumental dropouts during the verse-to-chorus transition make it an especially riotous standout as well, emphasizing what has always been the band’s primary power source; headbangable riffs that command the windows on your car to roll down and your immediate elder to be perturbed.
As far as criticism in a form of writing built on criticism, my actual complaints feel relatively opinion-based and minor. Production on the record can feel occasionally dismissive, reducing the heft of particular pieces and obscuring the intentions behind them. The 3:06 mark on the T/T gives the impression of an especially blasphemous Deceased riff, but its accompanying mix feels rather flat and mitigated. Likewise “Hanging Tree”, the album’s ballistic and integral closer, has an atmospheric outro that seems oddly un-atmospheric. Its compositional intentions are compelling as always, but something in its mixing particulars feels aloof, to be sure.
Other than those nitpicks, I do miss the larger than life solos that accompanied most of the cuts off the previous LP (though the T/T and Savage Blasphemy do bring the goods). Their exclusion can feel like a one-up on predictability that has certainly done the album more good than harm, but personally they almost always drove the value up on every song they were placed previously.
Hellripper feels energized, however. Despite any minor slights, McBain has realized a series of excellent black thrash blasters that continue to improve with every consequential listen. At 30 minutes and 8 tracks, it’s especially easy to recommend for speeding, passive aggressive noise retaliations and general good times. While its forebears might have finally succumbed to the deep black elixir of the void, Hellripper seems even more potent as a product of it. On ‘The Affair Of The Poisons’ the band accidentally conjure the concept of a terrible beast; black fur in black night, blistering forward and only discernible by the crimson red of its wild eyes.
Recommended tracks: “Vampire’s Grave”, “Savage Blasphemy”, “Hexennacht”, “The Hanging Tree”