Worm Shepherd – Ritual Hymns Review

In my very limited experience with the deathcore genre, Shadow of Intent is the master, chief. I’ve never before been arsed with Lorna Shore or any of the rank-and-file, nor do I care that Worm Shepherd have made a lot of waves in a relatively short period. Their debut In the Wake ov Sol1 dropped a touch over a year ago, and already they’re on Unique Leader and working with what I’m told are some big names. I wouldn’t spank Grier‘s ass over any of this. All I want is some good fucking music. Given their name, I’d say Worm Shepherd are obligated to pied piper my ass to the promised land with Ritual Hymns.

In classic every metal album ever symphonic deathcore fashion, the titular opener warms you up with the pompous and elegant before detonating out of nowhere. The whiplash from the instant bomb blast of sound sets the tone for the entire record: cool, yet jarring. The axe triumvirate of Brandon Cooper, Ryan Ibarra, and Tre Purdue2 lead downshifts from rippers to midtempo to halting slam n’ chug that come out of left field, jerking you to and fro like a roller coaster that hasn’t been serviced since that kid died in the ’70s. The riffs top out just shy of greatness, settling into decent if unremarkable patterns dedicated to boosting the total package. The result is rarely anything past cool, but the overall directions tend to work despite that. When given full rein, the guitars impose a blackened pastiche that deepens Worm Shepherd’s over-the-top tech-death analogs on its best songs, “The Raven’s Keep” and “Winter Sun.” And before you ask, yes, the album’s requisite breakdowns bore me, but you could do worse for a record obligated to host them.

Unfortunately, Ritual Hymns features good stretches where the strength of the riffs falter, and it’s then that the album stumbles. The best of these moments find the main symphonic melody stopping the gap, allowing the music to hold fast without entirely losing the plot. However, the mix prevents the symphonics and guitars from coexisting, constantly swapping one for the other in a seesaw that robs both of lasting punch. Instead, Devin Duarte’s vocals come out on top. The micman is strong overall and features a ton of range, from roars to squeals, but he too often relies on midrange growls and croaks that are the weakest of his repertoire. Songs glaze over this deficiency when everything is ripping along, but greater execution is required when the spotlight burns brightest.

The alternative to those passages, however, is something different entirely. Take the hypnosis via pummeling of “Ov Sword and Nail.”3 The concept — wrecking shit even after there’s no more shit to wreck — is blameless; how heavily it is applied is at issue here. Those who see tech-death as an impenetrable wall of noise won’t find green grass here. Dead-ass stretches of zoning out seem impossible to avoid, even with the car-crash pace-changes and genuinely interesting change-ups like the funeral doom intro to “The River ov Knives.”4 Compounding the issue is the drum production. When Leo Worrell McClain lets loose on his bass pedals, it reduces otherwise strong directions to a monorhythm monolith (“A Bird in the Dusk”, “Chalice ov Rebirth”).5 Even more confusing are myriad instances where the kit – pedals included – sound entirely natural. It’s like the album goes out of its way to highlight McClain’s speed, fuck the music and fuck your ears.

That said, there’s enough in the sum of Ritual Hymns’ parts to highlight why folks are so high on this act. This should be a guaranteed prize for fans of the genre and might entice a few of the unwashed metal masses into the deathcore fold. For me, I’ll see what the future has in store for Worm Shepherd. It’s easy to see a follow-up where an improved production highlights the dynamism inherent in their sound, and time and experience vault the act upward. For now, it’ll take more than Ritual Hymns to lure this wvrm into their flock.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Unique Leader Records
Websites: wormshepherd.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wormshepherdband
Releases Worldwide:
January 14th, 2022

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Gratuitous “v” #1.
  2. One of these guys plays the bass, but I’ll be damned if the promo material tells me who.
  3. Gratuitous “v” #2.
  4. Gratuitous “v” #3.
  5. Gratuitous “v” #4.
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