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Ripping Hell a new one - 86%

gasmask_colostomy, October 26th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, Reaper Metal Productions

To say that Hellripper took the underground by storm with Coagulating Darkness in 2017 is clearly an understatement, since even the bandname itself is much more specific about what happened to those dwelling below. With Black Arts & Alchemy, that means we should know what to expect, yet rabid blackened speed metal is always more surprising than it should be. Sole member James McBain has lost neither his thrashy playing chops nor caustic yell, imbuing the restless 12 minutes of this EP with plenty of tasty riffs and vigorous tempo shifts.

If you have ever found yourself gritting your teeth and shaking the sweat out of your hair to the sounds of Midnight or Whipstriker, the heads-down speed and ragged distorted drums of ‘Decrepit Christ’ and ‘All Hail the Goat’ will have you doing the same as you dizzily stagger into your sofa from a home headbanging overdose. Hellripper is not a second-string black speed name though, and the EP’s title track proves why: dancing melodic guitar work brings a crazed intensity to the choppy riffing of the verses, while the abrupt pause before the recitation of the title is magic itself. If the melodies have you thinking that Beethoven may even have conducted them, that’s nothing compared to the transition into the stunning solo.

Though seemingly a mere taster of new music, Black Arts & Alchemy will certainly be devoured by the legions of hungry fans following Hellripper for scraps. Compared to the title track, the Witchery-influenced closer ‘Headless Angels’ is a minor let-down; however, the overall quality is strong, the production and performance superb, and there certainly isn’t time to get bored.

Originally written for Metalegion #5 -

A brilliant use of speed - 90%

CarcassBOMB, June 7th, 2019

Another crazy impressive one man band in the extreme metal world right now. There's plenty of blackened speed metal here with zero comprise to the sound or intensity. Definitely check this one out and get a physical copy if you can, it has great sound and presentation.

If he didn't have a photo of himself across the artist social pages, people could pretty easily think Hellripper is a band and I think some people are under that impression. He clearly has a great understanding of what he wants to do with the music, and how to approach that sound with each instrument as well as how to place it all in the mixing. It's a sound that feels fleshed out and I'm guessing his non stop experience since starting in 2014 has brought him to this point of refinement. It also sounds like he genuinely has fun playing the music.

It's really thrashy but faster than most in the genre, with the black elements often being bastardized into a variation of deathy crust punk vocals. It's simultaneously old school and modern vibing. It's the 8 Ball of extreme metal with a deadly fusion of intoxicating stylings, it feels unique to me. I haven't really considered a lot of speed metal in recent times but Hellripper might just open my eyes to the better aspects of the genre. Particularly the guitar-work which has the pace and tone of Megadeth on meth but somehow still has the spacing and rhythm involved with slower thrash. There's just a great clarity in general and what's probably a very involved recording and mixing process to get all of these elements balanced across the record as they are. This EP, though short, is as consistent as a bullet and full of some big dick energy.
Artwork by skadvulder who does a lot of incredible cover work with an aesthetic I really enjoy. The cover for this EP in particular really uses that lovecraftian necromancy style which I adore. It's cool how it's like detailed but almost like he detailed in a vagueness about a lot of the features. It really blends and twists across, all spewing over this altar framed at the bottom. Also this character is exactly how I looked first listening to Hellripper.

Black Arts & Alchemy is another EP that benefited greatly from a guest vocalist, with this short of a format, the right guest vocalist in the right spot can make the whole thing pop a lot harder. It felt like Hellripper was in the middle of this massive cosmic battle and as it was nearing a peak a cosmic force from nowhere came to his aid to just annihilate shit. I don't have a whole lot to add beyond what I've said, I can't hear any faults in the other instruments, his cross instruments discipline is superb. Drums and bass might not be as strong as the guitar, vocals and mixing but are entirely as strong as they need to be for this sound. There was a moment where I could of sworn Motorhead started playing in another tab, some riffs are just super close to a lot of common thrash riffs. For a lot of people that'll be a part of the charm and is perhaps even the point, with the variety paying homage to those things. Like the King Diamond-esque vocal thrown in on the final track to leave a lasting impression.

Whatever the intent, I love this EP.

From current heavy music and art.

In league with the entire Ars Goetia - 93%

BastardHead, April 26th, 2019

Hellripper is a good example of how to do a clone band correctly. On the surface, James McBain's one-man project of pure devastation is commonly known as "The Midnight of Scotland", and that isn't wrong, but instead of sounding like a hollow shell of that American monolith of throwback viciousness, Black Arts & Alchemy is every bit as wild and frenzied as any other band in the current scene.

This kid knows what he's doing, because Hellripper is the exact kind of beer-and-hash-soaked demonry that bands like Midnight and Whipstriker have been making popular in recent years. This kind of Venom-cum-Motorhead-cum-Onyourface is just a god damned blast and I'm cool with bands aping this sound as shamelessly as possible for the foreseeable future. There's very little here beyond the surface flash of high octane 70s Motorhead put through the filter of virgin sacrifice and bloody sodomy and fuck that's all I want it to be. This is primo caveman metal, with no greater goal beyond simply rocking the fuck out as hard as possible and breaking as many faces as possible on your way through. These riffs sound like a Harley doing a burnout on your face, what the fuck else do you want?

There isn't much to dig into considering that, even beyond being very simple black/speed metal in the vein of early Venom, it's only a four track EP. "All Hail the Goat" starts off sounding like a biker bar on fire and it never slows down from there. All four tracks sound pretty much the same but they all fucking rock so who cares? It's fast, high octane metalpunk with the speed and energy of early 80s German speed metal and it sounds exactly like how you're imagining it to sound. My only regret is that the digital release doesn't include the fifth track, a CD-only bonus track cover of Running Wild's "Iron Heads". If you don't know why that will inevitably be the banger of the fucking century then I don't even want to know you.

For what it's worth, the first five times I tried to listen to this, I'd get about halfway through the first track before iTunes would crash. Black Arts & Alchemy is so vicious that it kills technology.

Originally written for Lair of the Bastard

Hellripper with Another Black/Thrash Attack! - 90%

MetalMegalomania, April 25th, 2019

For what the EP lacks in material, it certainly makes up for in quality and established flair. With only twelve minutes between the runout and needle drop, prior to release I expected something a little more from the EP in terms of flavour, as generic black/thrash doesn’t really get me going. Luckily for us, there’s a healthy mix of newfound flair and originality here, all placed on top of Hellripper’s delightful sound that we all know and love.

Hellripper seems to have kept the fast black/thrash core of their sound on Black Arts & Alchemy. We still have anthems like “All Hail the Goat” that wouldn’t be out of place on radio queue at your local dive bar, with James’ raspy vocals and hard-hitting sonic attitude purveying through your speakers. However, Black Arts & Alchemy seems to feature a lot more playful guitar breaks where the maniacal assault of percussion and screaming comes to a coordinated halt in place of a little flair. There are a few instances on the EP where James puts on some bluesy, almost medieval-sounding guitar licks that control the mix for a few repetitions until the other instruments come back in. These interjections accomplish two things: they keep the tracks interesting and diverse with the time signature changes, while also stamping the material with a thematic flair. I know it’s cheesy for the music style at hand, but these portions just sound downright evil, but oddly fun at the same time. They’re also implemented very well into the song structures here.

In terms of unique notable qualities other than this particular change, there aren’t too many. This is more-so to do with the subgenre at hand, of course, as black/thrash bands tend to stick within whatever flavour of devilish output they prefer. Hellripper has turned a friendly face towards the punkier side of things with this new output, but it’s still Hellripper. I predict a strong, steady, and predictably-enjoyable career for our Scottish friend, to which everyone will welcome with open arms, I’m sure. But hey, prove me wrong, right?

Black Arts & Alchemy - 90%

LickMyOrangeBallsHalfling, April 9th, 2019

Never one to stay idle for long, Scottish musician James McBain returns with "Black Arts & Alchemy," the latest EP by his primary project, the one man black/speed project known as Hellripper. After hearing their full length debut, 2017's "Coagulating Darkness," I was eager to see what he had in store, and I didn't find myself disappointed at all.

Stylistically, "Black Arts & Alchemy" more or less picks up where "Coagulating Darkness" left off: a healthy blend of razor sharp speed metal riffs, raspy shrieks and low grunts for the vocals, and some d-beats for good measure. Opening track "All Hail The Goat" wastes no time in launching into a full speed monster of a song, complete with the biting, trebly riffs that call to mind early Kreator, except McBain can actually play in time. His soloing is very fluid and surprisingly melodic compared to the sloppy, punkish style of similar bands like Midnight. He even shows some versatility in his vocals, switching from his traditional shriek to a low, Cronos-style rasp for the pre-chorus.

Elsewhere, McBain even displays a bit of hardcore influence, particularly on "Decrepit Christ," with its brutish riffs and d-beats that wouldn't be out of place on "Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing." But the real crown jewel is the ambitious title track. Here McBain incorporates some neoclassical sounding guitar work to great effect, conjuring up some of the eeriest, most infectious melodies he's ever written. This song tends to lean more towards black metal than speed metal, with a chaotic, dissonant atmosphere.

Needless to say, "Black Arts & Alchemy" more than met the expectations set for me after "Coagulating Darkness," and it's clear that McBain hasn't lost any of his touch.

All Hail the Goat - 91%

TheStormIRide, April 5th, 2019

Aptly named for the gaping hole this project has torn through the black/speed/thrash metal world since tearing into the scene in 2014, Hellripper is the brainchild of James McBain (Lord Rot, Lock Howl, Rats of Reality). The project’s 2015 Manifestation of Evil EP knocked me flat on my ass; and each subsequent release has managed to build on that gnarly Motörhead meets Venom meets Slayer conglomeration with a vicious aplomb. Their full length debut, Coagulating Darkness, released through the sorely missed Barbarian Wrath in 2017, saw Hellripper reaching a wider audience while nary a negative word was uttered by critics.

Black Arts & Alchemy is the band’s first non-split release since the full length dropped and is seeing the full treatment (CD/Vinyl/Digital) through Reaper Metal Productions (spearheaded by Crucified Mortals mainstay Reaper). The four (five if you get the bonus Running Wild cover) tracks were written, tweaked, perfected, and recorded in various stages between 2017 and 2018, as McBain doesn’t let Hellripper sit idle long. There is a bit of continuity between these four barnburners and the tracks on Coagulating Darkness, as they’re all born from the same dark pool of blackened thrashing speed metal, but there’s something about the songs on Black Arts & Alchemy that stands out.

Perhaps this is Hellripper finally stepping out from the shadows of modern titans like Midnight and Toxic Holocaust (as if Coagulating Darkness didn’t shine the spotlight enough). At twelve and a half minutes long, it’s a bold statement to say this is every bit as worthwhile as the full length, but it certainly is. From start to finish, Black Arts & Alchemy goes for throat, but in a way that will have you wanting the terror to last as long as possible. High octane thrash riffs steeped in blackness lead the way, while the rhythm section is inhumanely tight. The lead guitar work seems faster and more technical this go around, with early Metallica clearly a strong influence on the solos. McBain’s gruff bark sounds more controlled and varied this time around and be sure not to miss out on a deathgrunt during “Decrepit Christ” that would make Tom G. Warrior proud.

The EP moves through phases with a deft sleekness, from the riff-centric, Kill ’em All meets Satanic Royalty of “All Hail the Goat” to the heads down, punked-out, blackened thrash of “Decrepit Christ”, to the Aura Noir blackness of the title track, and the ripping thrash fest of “Headless Angels” complete with guest falsetto screams, Black Arts & Alchemy doesn’t waste a single second and makes every single note count. Despite a back catalog of top tier tracks, this latest offering is a fucking belter on every level. The production and recording are razor sharp, yet the Joel Grind mastering job leaves enough filth and grime to keep things honest. My only complaint is the length: it’s enough to whet my appetite but, holy shit, I want to hear more. Mark this one as mandatory.

Written for The Metal Observer.