Wormwitch – Wolf Hex Review

Today is a special day in these hallowed, blood-stained halls: This review marks my first time as an honest-to-goodness AMG chump writer that I’ve had the opportunity to review the anticipated follow-up to an album that I actually enjoyed. While this may be a big deal for me, I think the actual conversation around the fetid watercooler went something like: “we have this promo. Who wants it? You? Alright.” As you can tell, it was a truly auspicious occasion, overflowing with pomp and very little circumstance. Way back in the golden, halcyon days of 2019, Wormwitch’s Heaven That Dwells Within, with its wonderful mix of melody and brutality, became a consistent go-to album for a much younger, much less masked Felagund. Just two hellish years later, this Canadian quartet is back with Wolf Hex, their third full-length and another slab of melodic black metal. But does their latest measure up to my unfair expectations?

In his review of Heaven That Dwells Within, Eldritch Elitist opined on Wormwitch’s ability to transcend and transition, concluding that they’re “sounding both like everything and their own thing all at once.” I think that analysis mostly holds true on Wolf Hex, albeit to a lesser degree. Wormwitch certainly aren’t afraid to break free of the black metal mold that so many others are all too willing to remain imprisoned within. Their finely-honed melodic black metal sound ventures into speed metal at times, then swerving toward black n’ roll before diving headlong into folk, making it easy to stay engaged. This go-round, Wormwitch have also infused Wolf Hex (as the name implies) with an overarching werewolf theme. From the cover (designed by lead shrieker Robin Harris) to the growls, yelps and howls that pop up across various tracks, this loose but effective concept gives the album a uniquely lycanthropic flavor while also keeping things sufficiently unified.

Opening atmospheric instrumental “Lunar Maniac” does a good job at setting the tone, but Wormwitch don’t get to the pummeling until “Canadian Denim Mountain Attack,” a perfect example of the band’s sound that effectively balances vicious black metal with plenty of melody and harsh tremolos with classic, chugging riffs. It’s not a sound unique to Wormwitch, but it is one they continue to hone and improve upon. Follow-up “The Wolves of Ossory,” based on the Irish myth of a cursed lineage of werewolves, opens with a mood-setting acoustic intro before rampaging headlong into anthemic black metal territory, with some tasty guitar noodling for good measure. From the blackened speed on “Hammer of the Underworld” to the plaintive, mournful chants on “the Crimson Proof,” from the icy squealing guitars on “Abracadabra,” to the bird-chirping warmth of instrumental “Grail,” these cold-blooded canucks take Wolf Hex in some surprising and enjoyable directions.

These directions, though, aren’t quite enough to bring Wolf Hex to the lofty heights of Heaven That Dwells Within. For all the satisfying curveballs, there are plenty of areas (most notably on the back-end) where the songs begin blending together and grow less discernable. None of the songs are sub-par, but overall, Wolf Hex seems to lack the immediacy and accessibility of its predecessor. I can appreciate an album meant to grow on you over repeated listens, revealing its subtleties only after multiple, dedicated spins. But following my sixth or seventh playthrough, I realized my tenacity was less about uncovering hidden nuances, and more about convincing myself I liked it more than I did. And what to make of the inexplicable cover of Metallica’s “Hit the Lights” as the album closer? I can’t quite explain its inclusion, but taking the overall lupine theme into account, if a Metallica cover was indeed an artistic necessity, I’d argue that “Of Wolf and Man” would have been a better fit, if a bit on the nose (or in this case, muzzle).

With Wolf Hex, Wormwitch build upon many of the strengths that made Heaven That Dwells Within a success. They’ve evolved as storytellers and produced an album that’s both inventive and engaging. I can’t wait to see what they do next, and I’ll be salivating at the AMG promo sump in rabid anticipation. At the same time, this evolution has resulted in some unfortunate cast-offs, including the essential memorability that kept me returning to their previous work. While I happily recommend this album to any and all meloblack fans out there, you won’t find me barking at the moon for another listen right away.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: wormwitch.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wormwitch
Releases Worldwide: August 27th, 2021

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