Hellripper – The Affair of the Poisons Review

Despite enjoying metal my whole life, I used to struggle with thrash beyond the biggest names. I found it bland, chugging and neanderthalic. 2017 was a watershed time for my enjoyment of the thrashing style, and part of that watershed was Coagulating Darkness by Hellripper. Bridging black, speed and thrash, James McBain’s solo project did what so many others (including the ‘classics’) previously had not and opened the doors to the genre. Though I never got round to a write-up, it’s one of the premium speedy albums of the 2010s and Hellripper shot up my list of favorite bands. The principle source of my devastation at the Covid-19 pandemic was that my first Hellripper live show (due this month) was postponed. This blow was assuaged by the promise of a second full-length album and The Affair of the Poisons has now hit. Can it meet my expectations?

The first and most critical point to understand about Hellripper, and therefore about Affair, is their sheer energy. Every facet of the release is geared towards accentuating the ceaseless motion that’s the core of their being. The riffs are rhythmic but darting, quick but memorable, forging something like Motörhead on cocaine. Meanwhile, the drums are simple but dominate the tempo, and the shout-along choruses are ridiculous but compelling. There are moments on each track which trigger the specific nerve to mosh; even more now than previously, I regret that I won’t be seeing Hellripper live any time soon. Unbridled energy is a constant throughout and it’s this quality which ultimately won me over. There are very few other artists which guarantee headbanging as completely as this guy. I’m actually headbanging as I write this sentence.

But what, you ask, does Affair sound like? The answer is Black Arts & Alchemy. And Coagulating Darkness. And Complete and Total Fucking Mayhem. It’s not a shocking album if you know the Hellripper sound. If you don’t, it sits at the intersection of black metal and speed metal, somewhat akin to recent Deströyer 666, though with a stronger classic rock and metal streak. Though Affair uses black metal’s tools (blast beats, raspy shrieks, tremolo-picked passages), the song-writing is closer to speed metal. The leads have the classic simplicity of the 80s; they’re simple, short but so bloody effective. Maiden-esque harmonies and solos surface on occasion, such as on “Savage Blasphemy,” while “Spectres of the Blood Moon Sabbath” almost has a biker rock influence. “Vampire’s Grave” hammers in this rocking tint, sounding as if it wouldn’t be out of place on a Steppenwolf record (notwithstanding the black metal elements….).

“The Hanging Tree” is the exception that proves the rule that speed metal controls the core songs. It stands out for being heavier, less melodic and closer to the murkiness of black metal. As the closing song, it offers a welcome change of pace and a bleaker, more intense finale. Unlike the other tracks which are speed metal layered with black metal, this track is black metal layered with speed metal. The concluding minute offers an acoustic guitar and windy synths which sit over staccato electric guitars and drums. It’s a nice moment and feels appropriately final. The sum position is that while Affair is not so different from previous Hellripper releases, it demonstrates a more diverse range of influences which do enough to keep things fresh.

Slotting nicely alongside the incredible energy and speedy style is the refreshing brevity. The 8 tracks only run for 30 minutes and the record’s all the better for it. Affair is a testament to less is more. Too many bands producing fast music drag out song and album lengths, resulting in a loss of efficacy. Metal fans who like albums, or even individual tracks, simply because they’re long can eat shit. This is how it should be done, especially with speed metal. Intra-song structures also work well. Though each features a truck-load of top notch riffs (have I mentioned that McBain is one of the best riff-mongers at the moment?), these are stitched together with nifty transitions which ensures tracks run smoothly. It’s in these moments that the drums can shine as they command the tempo and use of space.

It’s impossible to not feel super-charged while listening to Hellripper. I’ve had my neck, my leg, my whole body rocking out. Affair has an electric feel where everything sounds live and lively. It isn’t changing the face of heavy metal as it’s backwards-looking, and it doesn’t even change things much from their own previous releases. But it is exciting, dynamic, fun and rip-roaring. This is metal which lingers fondly on live music and the 80s and which comes with my heartiest of recommendations. Join the blood orgy of the she-devils.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Peaceville Records
Websites: hellripper.com | hellripper.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hellripper
Releases worldwide: October 9th, 2020

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