Monday, September 15, 2014

Ringworm. Hammer of the Witch.

Ringworm. Hammer of the Witch. (with a review of earlier albums)
Relapse Records, 2014. Ringworm:

For twenty years Ringworm has been going down to the the dark cellar of its own Underworld and bringing back with them creatures ripped from the caves they found there, each trek into the depths of inspiration always returning with the iron­clad screaming, shredding, and perilous percussion that the band is known for producing. With the next installment in the lifeline of this hardcore line­up comes Hammer of the Witch, a rancorous torrent of macabre lyrics and vicious guitar work to crack the whip behind the words. Along with past releases Scars, The Venomous Grand Design, and Justice Replaced by Revenge, the hexes of these albums taken separately or together hit forcefully and don't care if you're ready for them, making for a package that is not for the faint of heart. Ringworm's approach to hardcore has always been a thick swamp of dark energy, filled with constant, rough ­throated rage from lead singer Human Furnace, his tearing voice owned with authority and equipped with coarse, spiked bellows the raging bard wields like a swinging cudgel. The man has certainly earned his moniker with the way he can persevere in maintaining the growling fire stoked in his throat.

Part of the pleasure that encrusts the offerings of Ringworm's lead singer is that there is a distinguished bite to his bellowing, a type of grizzled harshness that is forever serrated. He'll hock up a grunt or a bark after screaming out verses and, so barbed with harsh nails, it's jaggedly beautiful to hear. The dirty vocals are without a doubt one of the major factors of the sound that binds the imagery together and emulsifies the other shadowy elements found in Hammer of the Witch, and the achievements on this album raise the band to new heights.

The subject matter flowing through the lyrics, flyblown and gauntly relinquished to a world where the people in it are lost and doomed, possesses at the same time a poetic underside--albeit with lots of doom, so much that it could power another series of iD Software games.  Counting the respective gloom of songs like "I Recommend Amputation," "Hammer of the Witch," and "Die Like a Pig," it's rather easy to get a vivid understanding of the frothing rot these fellows are fond of courting:

"Paralyzing; shut down; minimize. Amputation. Vivisection; cut off; cauterize. Amputation.  Vivisection; cut off; cauterize. Amputation. Terrifying; blood red; a violent amputation. It's never­ending, no hope. I recommend amputation."  "Into the flame you descend, denying the truth 'til the end. Your body will soon be of ash; feeding the devil your flesh. Into the grave in the ditch; burning alive devil bitch. All of the pain that you feel. The Hammer of the Witch." "You survive believing you're alive: feeding the rest of the hive. Now betrayed, believing you are saved, living your from the grave. You, drone, it's not your own, cutting yourself to the bone. Swine, pig, you're all alone."  And so forth.

In the meat of the lyrics' fury and aggravation the defiance is retched out, backed by thundering drums and howling guitars, the tone pledging never to become complacent to unthinking norms. Some might be overwhelmed by the sinister words and rotting imagery, so ensconced in the notion that we're all going to be destroyed and decay, but if you can see the connection to something similar in tone like T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland there's allure here.

Even when slogging through the scourge and wraith-­filled skies of ether there is a form and persistent dread that is appealing to travel amongst if you have the palate for it, like a Clive Barker picnic with all kinds of covered dishes. And, lest the elegant appreciation be overstated, there's plenty of screaming to be had on Hammer of the Witch mixed in with all the possible interpretation. Growing up it would have been truly remarkable to go to school everyday and have the Human Furnace commanding the mouthpiece of the morning announcements.

The unspoiled hardcore element and bare ­knuckle vocals have evolved from the sound
developed on Ringworm's first demo back in 1991, with the factors from that point on
keeping to relatively the same order, the tendency of the band to adhere to the philosophy that they are about the cacophony of the noise and, indeed, it is great that they are, played so dynamically by newcomers and veterans alike. Matt Sorg on guitar brings the expected expertise and deft fingers to the strings, as does John Comprix, the two of them each putting out absolutely fantastic solos on the track "Hammer of the Witch" that deserve listening to over and over again. The praying, horned and very well-­drawn demoness on the album cover (and included excellent fold­out poster) would certainly approve. Danny Zink does a well ­rounded job on drums and Ed Stephens, the latest bassist, will hopefully be kept around for future releases.

To switch horses midstream and go back in time to the days of yore when the album
Scars came out you get a healthy dose of the expected gruffness Ringworm has to offer, in much the same way you encountered their enjoyably bedeviled tendencies in
preceding albums. And, with some understanding that there have been regular line­up changes in the band over the years, Scars sounds quite similar to Justice Replaced By Revenge and The Venomous Grand Design. And it's for that reason that these albums, while respectable on their own merits, occasionally feel like they could have all been put into one oversized release. They're outstripped by the expertise on Hammer of the Witch, particularly when it comes to the overall guitar work and production.

But there shouldn't be any misunderstanding on the craftsmanship of the three­--they're
quality albums. It's just that they are in some very noticeable ways extremely alike. The
speed demons in Dragonforce spring to mind as incredibly talented musicians that, much like Ringworm, put out a great deal of music that keeps in line with its usual ways, albeit in a decidedly different genre and velocity. Being compared to Dragonforce in any
capacity is, for the record, an honor not to be taken lightly by gods or humans alike.
Ringworm swears by its authenticity of staying true to its hardcore roots, and certainly
none can argue otherwise when flitting from one album to the next if faith to the raging
ways of screaming and shredding are the main factors in focus.

Picking out the distinctive tracks of the flock from the albums gives due credit to the flecks of steel in their outlines. "Hellbound" and "Angelfuck" (try whispering that term of endearment into your loved one's ear) rise to the pedestal from Scars, while "Alchemist"
and "Ninth Circle" bring the goodness on The Venomous Grand Design. The solos on those four tracks harvest the sweet, satisfying spell of wonder that only a gifted guitarist can deliver, and the appreciation only grows with repeated listens. At first Justice Replaced by Revenge didn't have as much of a sucker punch in store as the other grindhouses, but the tracks "House of Hell" and "Day of Truth," possessing some gritty shouting and fiery incantations, deserve serious respect with the way they ignite themselves. Additionally, "Whiskey Drunk" is a calm and mellow instrumental that shows the band can take five and chill out for a bit when it feels so inclined, much like some of the other earthy instrumentals on their other releases. Simply put there's something here for every fan of the hardcore ilk.

Ringworm is very aware of their achieved success in the industry as a musical act and not shy about trumpeting this status, with the albums leading up to and including Hammer of the Witch making it easy to understand why. Previous experiences with ringworm have left me feeling disenchanted and itchy, but capitalize that "r" and you'll end up going to a physician for a different reason. "I don't know what's wrong with me," you'll say to the doctor, "I just can't stop headbanging. And I love it." The prescription no doubt will be hardcore.

Hammer of the Witch:
Personnel: Danny Zink (drums), James "Human Furnace" Bulloch (vocals), Matt Sorg
(guitar), Ed Stephens (bass), John Comprix (guitar)
Tracks: Dawn of Decay, Bleed, Leave Your Skin at the Door, Exit LIfe, Psychic Vampire, King of Blood, I Recommend Amputation, Hammer of the Witch, We'll Always Have the End, One of Us is Going to Have to Die..., Vicious Circle of Life, Die Like a Pig, Height of Revelation.

Personnel: Matt Sorg (guitar), James "Human Furnace" Bulloch (vocals), John Comprix (vocals), Danny Zink (drums), Mike Lare (bass)
Tracks: Voluntary Human Extinction, To the Grave, Used Up Spit Out, Scars, Unravel,
Cleansing of the Fall, Burning Bridges, Angelfuck, Empty, Hellbound

The Venomous Grand Design:
Personnel: James "Human Furnace" Bulloch (vocals), Chris Dora (drums), Mike Lare
(bass), Matt Sorg (guitar)
Tracks: Things Are Not As They Seem, The Cage, The Ninth Circle, Suicidal Visions,
Alchemist, Razor's Line, Dichotomy, Never Was, I Preach to No One, Hangman, Life's
Blood, The Key, Hell on Earth.

Justice Replaced by Revenge:
Personnel: James "Human Furnace" Bulloch (vocals), Frankie "3Gun" Novinec (guitar), Matt Sorg (guitar), Danny Zink (drums), Steve Rauchorst (bass)
Tracks: Justice Replaced by Revenge, No One Dies Alone, Seeing Through These Eyes, House of Hell, Day of Truth, Whiskey Drunk, God Eat God, Ghosts of the Past, Thrive, Devil's Kiss, Death Is Not an Option, No More Heroes, Life After the End of the World.

Robert Gojo

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