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Album Review: Ringworm’s Snake Church

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Ringworm cut a dashing figure somewhere in the swirling cacophony that is crypt-robbing death metal and pit-prodding thrash, with the Human Furnace’s primal monotone acting as a violent shoulder-check into hardcore terrain.  If that description reads like your fraying battle-vested wet dream, Snake Church should be your new soundtrack.  This is no shoddy callback to past glories.  The energy on these twelve burners is nigh inexhaustible, and with most songs packing themselves into a neat two-to-three minutes, the album rolls along at an admirably raucous pace.  The Cleveland quintet only ever slows enough for a righteous clean guitar solo or to allow you time to yank your fallen mosh bro off the floor by the wrists.

(Of course, my favorite bit is the plodding, mid-album shamble of “Shades of Blue,” whose tempo and purpose remind me a bit of Converge’s “Coral Blue,” but if Ringworm had hidden a thirteen-minute funeral doom track somewhere in the back of their Snake Church, that would be my favorite part… I’m disappointingly predictable that way.)

This album’s toughest leather to chew is its vocal performance.  Hardcore has never fostered the most inventive vocal approach, and James Bulloch (the aforementioned “Human Furnace”) offers exactly what is expected of him.  That’s not to say his crushed-lung barrage lacks urgency, but he comes off as a spittle-slinging drill sergeant who’s constantly in your face demanding more pushups rather than a kindred spirit inciting you acts of self-affirmation.  This kind of music is usually meant draw its listeners out of complacency and elevate their expectations of the human experience.  With rhythmically uncomplicated vocal rants and (if the lyric video for the title track is any indication) generally unimaginative lyrical choices, it all come off as berating rather than provoking.

The music, on the other hand, lights up with some truly engaging moments.  Late in “Angel of War,” the guitars whine with a plaintive dissonance that definitely perks up the ears.  “The Apparition” opens with some killer Mastodon-like guitar wheedlie-deedlies.  The bass activity in “Brotherhood of the Midnight Sun” and “Temple of the Wolves” slices through the mix to make its excellence known, and the snarling solos in “Brotherhood” are menacing and magnificent in all the right ways.  And the variations in “The Black Light of a Living Ghost” would have made it a perfect addition to an extreme version of Guitar Hero.

Snake Church doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or necessarily put a whole lot of air into it, but a certain audience will find in this record everything they want their half-hour to be.  Adherents of the A389 school of beatdown administration should absolutely take heed, and Ringworm fans should be pleased to have another slab of toothy crossover on their shelves.

Ringworm’s Snake Church comes out July 29 on Relapse. You can stream the track “Innocent Blood” here and pre-order the album here.

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