I’m trying to be stricter with my scores so far this year, and in the process I’ve done a lot of thinking about what makes a great record… well, great. I could boil it down to some nebulous combination of songwriting, riffs, and melodic personality, but solid fundamentals aren’t enough. Those qualities alone would only result in an AMG 3.5 without that all important je ne sais quoi; the kind of elusive talent which enables moments that explode with vibrancy, reminding us why we are alive. And Wormwitch? Man alive, they’ve got it. These Canucks live to build to those gut-punch moments of explosive, untethered passion that define the best records. Those moments, paired with thoughtful lyricism and careful attention to the aforementioned fundamentals, result in a product that absolutely fucking rules with Heaven That Dwells Within.
I first described this record to my colleagues as “modern Tribulation for people who find modern Tribulation boring,”1 but I’ve since denounced this tag as a massive undersell. While moody, mid-paced black ‘n’ roll is Wormwitch‘s standby aesthetic, their frequent forays into blackened death metal and full-on crust sections are as wildly entertaining as they are unpredictable. This isn’t to say that the transitions lack logic; the sudden shifts from mid-paced grooves to blastbeats or d-beats are disgustingly smooth, resulting in utterly seamless genre bending. More important than the cohesiveness of stylistic fusions, though, is that the record is relentlessly fun. Halfway through my first spin of Heaven That Dwells Within, I gave up predicting what was going to come next, an especially prescient move on my part considering that the record’s B-side is one of the best I’ve heard in ages.
Indeed, while Heaven That Dwells Within‘s front half is consistently fun, its back end capitalizes on elements introduced early, producing brilliant moments and multiple Song o’ the Year candidates. Where opening cut “Disciple of the Serpent Star” executes a catchy transition into crust punk, a similar move in “Iron Woman” results in a joyous, indescribably cathartic chorus section. The acoustic guitar and hardcore-esque gang vocals first exhibited in “Vernal Womb” are masterfully re-implemented in “Dancing in the Ashes,” a track which features a gorgeous, heartbreaking neofolk introduction, later contrasted with the album’s most propulsive blackened death metal riffs. Though these sorts of monumental moments aren’t strictly confined to the second half, their upward trajectory in the record’s twilight phase makes for an addictive, irresistible flow.
Wormwitch‘s dynamic songwriting is undoubtedly their greatest asset, but in isolated instances, weak structural decisions make for Heaven That Dwells Within‘s only notable flaws. I’m specifically referring to a scattered handful of track conclusions; the aforementioned “Dancing in the Ashes,” for instance, ends with a relatively tame black ‘n’ roll groove, which betrays the monumental riffage that preceded it. Yet similar endings elsewhere feel thematically relevant. The downbeat ending of “Iron Woman” is perhaps the record’s heaviest and most foreboding passage, yet shares a lyric—involving a resounding battlefield victory—with the glorious, melodic chorus. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to make out this lyric without the shining clarity of vocalist Robin Harris’ vicious, Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquillity)-esque rasps. Wormwitch’s persistent instrumental dynamism would not be possible without the rhythm contributions of guitarist Colby Hink and drummer Israel Langlais, each of whom play with an impressive sense of fluidity and flair, enabling the countless stylistic pivots.
Sonically speaking, Heaven That Dwells Within most closely resembles the hybrid of Watain, Tribulation, and Dissection presented on Thron’s recent sophomore LP. While Wormwitch’s inclusion of crust punk handily differentiates them, it’s their artistic tact which truly elevates them to a level where mere comparisons feel like empty words. The melding of genres here is of a scope which is rarely pulled off without feeling like an inconsistent melting pot. And yet here’s Wormwitch, sounding both like everything and their own thing all at once, absolutely crushing it on their second record after less than five years of existence. Support them, so that they may continue to thoroughly and resolutely own for ages to come.