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This is what I envisage thrash to be. It's not a super heavy genre, it's not a smart genre, it's not a pummeling genre, it's not an atmospheric or evil genre and it's not an artistic one. It's the manic outpouring of as many vigorous, frenzied riffs as humanly possible without the slightest inclination of a fuck given towards pacing, songwriting or thematic purity; It's feral. It's wild. This album is that concept driven to its logical conclusion and stands as a truly glorious testament to spastic excess. This is too fast to care about transitions. Too assured in its own exaggerated brilliance to care that it has a comet with a derpy vampire face for a cover. Too busy shitting out riffs to care about coming up with a snappy title which will help with word of mouth. This is what thrash should strive to be; pure unbridled energy and fervor.
I guess you could say I'm looking at it all wrong since technically they're a death/thrash band apparently, but I honestly can't hear much death metal on here. There are some blasts, a decent number of tremolos, albeit usually used in a more Vektor-esque fashion, and the shrieked, absurd vocals are something Sadus would say are too much, but few of the riffs here seem to far removed from the later thrash template. They're the same choppy and brisk 80s styled riffs, just faster than usual, with quite a meaty production, angrier drums and less outwardly catchy hooks. There is nothing in these riffs either ominous enough, chunky enough, lurching enough or brutally savage enough to really sound death metal to me. This is almost entirely in line with the tech thrash of Sadus and Aspid, but pushing each of those bands' unique traits to the maximum. It takes all of Sadus' speed and frenzy, and strips out most of the more traditional links to the regular super fast thrash of Slayer, Sepultura and Dark Angel, leaving nothing but the exuberant chaos. Then it adds in Aspid's tech focus but ignores all their progressive and slower tendencies. I guess it also adds in a little bit of brutal thrash in the insanely savage beating the drums get here, but it's far quicker and more agile than Demolition Hammer, Morbid Saint or Sepultura ever were. This is certainly very violent, very fast and very technical for thrash, but I don't feel this splits evenly down the thrash/death line; it's just the most intense and crazy strains of thrash at their most excessive.
This is so excessive in fact that they haven't even tried to compose a coherent song. The transitions on this album are absolutely fucking awful, yet endearing in their reckless insanity. When compared to the early tech death/thrash that these guys are compared to, like early Atheist for instance, this is absurdly unkempt. Most other early tech bands used their complexity to demonstrate a clear image of artistic clarity, bold skill and progressive intelligence; Hellwitch use instrumental skill to wow you so hard you either don't notice or care that hardly any of their riffs go together, and even if they did the band is too busy trying to break speed records to recognise it.
Take a look a the opening track, "Nosferatu", a two and a half minute exercise in brutal thrashing exuberance and chunky, knuckle dragging grooves which manages to slip in a recurring screeching, spacy lead lick because, why the fuck not; in thrash more is more, keep the careful pacing of quirky ideas to the slower genres. It's actually one of my least favourite songs on the album, namely because the short track time means it spends more time on the admittedly catchy chorus than it does flying off the rails in search of crazier solos and more wrist melting riffs, but it makes for easy picking of bad transitions. For the oh, 14 riffs on here, there are 7 abrupt tempo and mood swings. That right, every two riffs they completely switch gears in clumsy, whiplash inducing handbreak turns or abrupt rocket take offs. Hellwitch play particularly vigorous tetherball with the flow of their music. The only transition from the blasting, spaced out carnage of the verse riff to the slow, stop-start, arhythmically crawling chorus riff is an equally ill-fitting to both four second descending lead riff which is book-ended by a second and a half of silence on each side. On the topic of silence, the break between the second chorus and the solo/bridge section is so long I'm about 80% certain the band had the following conversation away from the mic:
"Fuck, how many times was that for the chorus, Tommy?"
"Just once I think, Pat, I think we've got another verse."
"Are you sure? I think that was the two, time for my bitchin' solo!"
"Are you for real guys? I thought the song was over, I was just gonna start playing 'Viral Exogence'"
"Don't be an idiot, Joe, you just want to play more blasts."
"Don't call me an idiot Tom, you bass playing dick."
"Both of you shut the fuck up, I'm starting the solo riff ok, look it's on tape now, no backsies!"
... Where was I... Oh yeah, the transition is ridiculously sloppy, that's what I was getting at there. It's even got this doofy doodling chug which sits out in the middle which clearly fills in time while they figure out what to do. So why do I love it so freaking much? Well for the main part the album doesn't get quite as slow and clunky as that song, so the fact the transitions vary from just changing a riff awkwardly and hoping it's all too fast for anyone to notice, to "stop everything for a bit to figure out where we're up to" doesn't usually result in such massive gear changes, just smaller ones with no clutch. There are a few notable exceptions, such as the random folkish, medievalish acoustic break in "Mordirivial Dissemination" hilariously exploding mid-note into blasts and a death roar which seems to actively mock the increasing progressive leanings of the genre at the time. But usually these sloppy transitions are more riffs jumping 100BPM and back again, or just two riffs which don't go together at all being sandwiched. It's sloppy as fuck, but it suits the insane and over the top nature of the album. The riffs are wild, the leads are screeching, technical and sporadic, the vocals are a deranged shriek and the drums have tendencies to burst into rapid fire blasts, why wouldn't the structure of the album itself suit this.
When I think of thrash, I think of a genre which lacks genuine violence and brutality, one that lacks pure melodic catchiness, or conversely lacks ominous or dark atmosphere. Basically I think of one that has been trumped in all of its original appeals by the genres it spawned... except for zippy, frantic frenzy. This trait is what this album reflects so perfectly. It may have a death metal riff or two, and a few blasts, but this is the most manic sort of over the top zany derangement you just don't see in other genres. The choppy riffs, the loose and completely hysterical vocals and the way the riffs just pile up on one another at ridiculous speeds is something that thrash does better than everything else, and Hellwitch do it better than almost every other thrash.
Syzygial Miscreancy manages to cover quite a lot of ground in 25 minutes of maniacal absurdity. Obviously it's got an impressive volume of super fast and choppy thrash riffing which makes up the bulk of the album, but it's got enough grooving, midpaced thrash breaks to keep it at least someone comprehensible. As I've said, they can't transition between these two things worth a damn, but the surprise factor of every time they bring back the deranged tempo is always welcome. The solos and Voivod-esque screeching, sci-fi quasi-melodic fit in a bit more nicely, both of which adding some unique flair and showcase some seriously impressive playing skills. The solos manage to marry the spacy vibes of the leads with pure shredding, noisy squealing and even some melodic sensibilities to create some memorable hooks among the wildness, showing that in at least one way the band took some care with their compositions and arrangements. All in all the band showcases more than enough variation and flair to back up their kinetic energy and make this an album which remains exciting and fun long after the simple appreciation of excess has worn off.
This sort of tech-thrash is easily my favourite branch of the genre, and Hellwitch are one of my favourites in that branch. They have a level of unhinged and crazed to the point of falling apart madness which is practically unmatched, and they pull it off exceptionally well. They've got plenty of great riffs, enough energy to push Sadus in that regard, drumming which knows exactly how far to push the extremity, a vocalist who rips his damned throat out, and they've kept the damn thing short and too the point unlike say, Inquisitor. It's a showcase of everything I love about thrash, and any time I need to explain some aspect of the genre I like, I can always point them to some moment on this album. Sloppy and reckless, yet technical, professional and hyperactive, it's a combo which would be detrimental in most places, but not in tech-thrash, and not for Hellwitch.
Being that there are already multiple in-depth examinations of Hellwitch's "Syzygial Miscreancy" LP I'm going to keep this short and aim this review in a slightly different direction. This extremely short record clocking in at less than 30 minutes long and was released on Wild Rags in 1990. I sincerely believe that for the year 1990, this was one of the most impressive, cutting-edge, technically brilliant, well-produced, and over the top records in existence, and most definitely one of the greatest Wild Rags releases ever. Looking at the LP from a modern perspective it's just impossible to imagine how innovative this record was in 1990!
There's been so many groups that have tried, with dismally boring and often redundant results, to imitate this style of high-tech death metal that I think it has clouded many of the other reviewer's minds about this release. For tunes this high-speed and technical they are surprisingly memorable and the vocals a perfect fit, being of a higher-pitched, almost black metal-ish shriek/scream style,rather than more common gutteral death metal vocals.The guitar work is simply out of this world but totally sincere. One doesn't get the impression these guys were trying to impress anyone with their musical prowess, rather, Hellwitch, along with Athiest and Death, among several others, stumbled onto a new (for 1990) style of extreme metal...with brilliant results.
Admittedly, I'm NOT a fan of hyper-tech death metal, but I could listen to Hellwitch all day! This release is just so far-out and well-made for 1990, and even by today's standards, that it deserves to be held in the highest regard and treated with the utmost respect, as it was bands like Hellwitch who truly advanced the development of extreme death metal. One must only listen to Brazilian extremists Rebaelliun to hear the influence of Hellwitch. Another factor that makes this record so impressive is the drumming which is as impressive as anything around in '90 and perfectly recorded! In conclusion, when put in its historical perspective one cannot but be awestruck by the audacity and talent of this HUGELY under-rated group of rabid Floridians. HAIL!!!!
Hellwitch was another Florida act with a relatively substantial history behind them, before they were snapped up through the fledgling Wild Rags records. Forming in 1984, they produced a string of demos and rehearsals of a thrashing nature, gradually swerving towards a more aggressive pasture that merged the spacey, science friction of DBC and Voivod with blitzing speed and searing brutal thrash akin to Dark Angel's Darkness Descends or Pestilence's Malleus Maleficarum. Really, the only other band among the Florida crowd that was comparable to this sound was Atheist, yet here the vocals were not so psychotic, the compositions not so sadistic or condensed. Amusingly, while it's a good enough debut, Syzygial Miscreancy suffers a few of the same setbacks as Piece of Mind.
For a Scott Burns mix, this album is fairly smooth and clear, lacking some of the processed mud that dampened the debuts of Deicide or Malevolent Creation, but also not a far cry in the guitar tone and muted battery of drums and rhythm guitars. The cover art is incredibly bad, as if the Green Goblin's skull were transformed into a flame trailing meteor, awkward title placement providing a cringe worthy aesthetic. Definitely not on par with a Leprosy, Altars of Madness, or even the iconic simplicity of Deicide or Piece of Time, but then, there was no Combat, Earache or Roadrunner backing this band up. Stylistically, the band performs blitzkrieg thrash metal often interlaced with passages of almost frivolous excess. The various riffs are conjoined only in their quickening intent, and thus the transitions often feel sloppy, too stop/start. Not as catchy or well written as a lot of the technical stuff coming out of Europe (Coroner, Destruction, Deathrow and Vendetta), but they certainly evoke an interstellar asylum effect that places them in a rare order with Sadus, Nasty Savage, Terrahsphere, Atheist and so forth.
It's not a surprise that most of the songs here were taken from a few of the previous demos, but despite their separate points of origin, they flow with a crass consistency. "The Ascent" is a fine, lonely clean guitar passage which lasts all of 30 seconds before the skies collapse with their rabid vampire ode "Nosferatu", claimed from their first demo in '84. The band throw a half dozen riffs at you in hopes that they'll stick, but unlike the spasmic contortions of Altars of Madness, they do not always succeed. The lead sequence is great, the vocals barking and bloody, and then it's off to the Voivod-like intro "Viral Exogence", whence suddenly Hellwitch have discovered their vocabulary skills. Wordy titles abound, like "Sentient Transmography", "Pyrophoric Seizure" and "Mordirivial Dissemination", and the slicing hyper guitars nearly live up to them, creating a nexus of paranoia and brutal subdual for the confounded audience. Personal faves here are "Moririvial Dissemination", which feels like a post-apocalyptic Dark Angel circa '86; "Sentient Transmography" with its towering rhythmic vernacular; and "Pyrophoric Seizure" and "Purveyor of Fear", both polished from the earlier Mordirivial Dissemination demo (1987).
Unfortunately, Hellwitch are often in such a rush that they seem to trend towards expletive force over memorable songwriting. From a technical standpoint, this is definitely something that will spin your head around a few times on the spine, but only for the actual velocity, not for the cleverness through which its constituent ligaments are joined together. Syzygial Miscreancy is definitely a solid exercise in extremity, one that feels fairly fresh even by today's standards, but unlike several of their Florida peers, they don't really come up with 'hits' that you want to listen to repeatedly for decades. That said, this is an experience I would recommend to anyone that favors a spell of pseudo-intellectual depth with their riffing alacrity. The lyrics are well written, the concepts interesting and the potential barks raving mad up a different tree than what most of the death metal or death/thrash bands were pushing in the early 90s. It might be a little hard to find the original, but you're in for a treat with either the 2008 reissue (including a pile of their demos) through Displeased or the Final Approach compilation, which consists of this album and the follow-up EP Terraasymmetry. There's not enough here to really survive the near 20 year gulf before the slightly superior sophomore album in 2009, but it's a curious and punishing excursion to the brink of sanity.
Do you like your Thrash to be mixed with the sound of the Florida Death Metal scene from the late 80’s/early 90’s? Do you like your Metal raw, with an in-your-face attitude? Then check out this re-release of Hellwitch’s "Syzygial Miscreancy".
I could just end the review right there, but that would be doing the band and this album an injustice. Hellwitch formed back in 1984 and released several demos before their debut full-length, "Syzygial Miscreancy", was released in 1990. Seeing that the original release was only a little bit over 25 minutes long, this re-release comes with songs from four different demos (sometimes featuring earlier versions of songs from the actual album) added on as an extra bonus.
The overall best song here is "Nosferatu", an extreme blast of heaviness and speed that ranks up with the best of its genre. It is chock full of insane soloing, riffs and tempo-changes, all within three minutes! This song can be found three other times on the album in varying different stages, since it was included on the majority of their demos. It’s interesting to hear how the song evolved but the best version is the one released with the original album. From start to finish, the original "Syzygial Miscreancy" album thrashes, growls and changes speeds in a Thrash/Death fan’s wet dream. The band members are all talented, and even though many of the songs are short, they’re very complex without being close to anything "progressive." This is raw Thrash/Death Metal here, folks.
One complaint would be that the vocals are pretty bad. However, fans of low-budget Black Metal and early Death Metal demos of the mid 80’s might enjoy or at least tolerate them more. Also, even though there were many demos included to inflate the running time, the actual album is just barely under 26 minutes long. The demos may be more of interest to lifelong fans of the band or fans of demos in general, but for the casual fan, most of these aren’t worth more than a couple of listens.
Still, I’m glad I was given the opportunity to review this album, as Hellwitch is one of many bands from the 80’s/90’s that was largely forgotten. Thankfully, now we get the opportunity to hear this album once again. Be on the lookout for a new album from this band, to be released in August or September.
(Originally published for www.metal-temple.com)
Note: I'm reviewing here a sort of compilation of this band's works that is not listed on the Metal Archives page, featuring the Syzygial Miscreancy album in its entirety and then a collection of the band's demo material stacked on top of one another. It is NOT the Final Approach compilation. I don't know what exactly this is, so I'm going to assume it's some kind of promotional release by the label to commemorate the band's return to the scene. Bear with me here.
Florida's Hellwitch are a band with a big vocabulary, as is evident from one glance at the tracklisting on here that makes old Carcass look like High School spelling bee contestants in comparison. "Viral Exogence"? "Mordrivial Dissemination"? "Pyrophoric Seizure"? If this was anything other than an obscure 1990s extreme metal album I don't know what anyone would be able to make of it!
Okay, okay, that was exaggerating a little, but Hellwitch are a very eccentric band. This kind of sounds like what would happen if you took Atheist's rawer material, mixed it with some early Death, and then shook it up in a blender to get the kind of jaggedness and general uneasiness these compositions exude. This is very fast, blistering, complex stuff, and if you miss too much of it and let your attention drift, the music may become boring and it may lose you in its winding catacomb of insanity - it's happened to me. There's really nothing about this music that is easy to like or digest, and that's actually one of its strong points; such unabashedly uncommercial music is respectable, at least when done with a level of proficiency and instrumental talent. Yes, this is as good a middle finger to the mainstream as anything else released in the underground 90s scene, and Hellwitch manage to deliver some intelligent metal that still manages to thrash the fuck out.
So we kick off with a useless intro piece that served better being integrated into the song as is demonstrated on the demo recordings, and then we kick into "Nosferatu," a song which crops up quite often here and seems to be this band's trademark one. It's a good little song, with some nice riffs, but it's not the best the band have to offer. The rest of the album itself is divided between short, direct, ballsy thrashers and more complex, weird numbers like "Mordrivial Dissemination," which is my pick for the best song on this album, with its bizarre arrangements and haphazard riffs.
The bonus stuff is long, and there are actually three more versions of "Nosferatu" featured here, which I have dubbed "Nosferatwo," "Nosferathree" and "Nosfouratu" respectively. Once again, good song, but not the best; satisfactorily thrashy. I think the real gems in here are bigger, more epic songs like the melodic "Satan's Wrath" and "Fate at Pain's End." Some of the later songs are demo songs and are kind of glitchy, even skipping in places, and the end of the album suffers as a result. Although good old "Nosfouratu" at the end there is actually my favorite version, just for the antique nature of it when one of the band members says "Nosferatu, take one." I mean, it's the first take - that's special right there.
Always super fast and super technical, Hellwitch will make fans of prissy modern metal piss themselves in fear. Worthy.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Anyone that read the liner notes of Unquestionable Presence would be aware that the musicians of Atheist liked to indulge in some marijuana before writing their spacey technical progressive death/thrash. Well, I have no idea what kind of drugs could produce Hellwitch's type of music. This has to be one of the most schizophrenic-sounding albums I have ever heard.
To start, a lot of this album sounds like a cross between Gorguts and Atheist's Piece of Time or Unquestionable Presence, especially when they tremolo pick those odd, weaving, melodic phrases. I notice some people say how a certain band supposedly has "insane vocals", usually in regard to ones that have screaming or something. Patrick Ranieri, vocally similar to Kelly Schaefer on meth, is the only person that I could think of as actually sounding as though he is severely fucked in the head. He gives such a manic and quick performance, I recall doing a double take after pulling up the lyrics to "Nosferatu" when his lines kicked in, as I completely missed what he was saying with the lyrics right in front of my face.
The instruments have a thick sound, a benefit of Morrisound production, I would guess. It doesn't have a "clean" production, per se, but you can hear what's going on without really putting massive auditory effort. The guitars are especially thick, the rhythms having a strong, sharp punch to them and the tremolo lines having a clear, spacey quality to them when they are highlighted by production.
Strangely enough, as crazy as this album sounds, the songs tend to have a somewhat reliable verse chorus verse structure, unlike Atheist whom switched with almost every song. The pure energy and focus of the album is what causes you to percieve some random insanity. This release is a must have for fans of technical death thrash in the vein of Atheist or Human-era Death.