Hellripper’s James McBain Discusses His Latest Victory, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags
Since 2014, James McBain has been the dauntless captain behind the one-man ship that is Hellripper. His brand of aggressive, in-your-face blackened thrash/speed metal is bound to be a surprise in our age of watered-down bands. Hellripper combines a nostalgic old-school feel with unstoppable youthful energy. Within the band’s bubbling cauldron, various influences mingle beautifully to create something truly venomous. Born in 1995, mastermind James McBain may be young, but he has already dedicated years to his craft and established a solid fanbase.
Expect Hellripper’s wicked third full-length album, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags, to take you by storm when it drops via the legendary Peaceville Records on February 17. If you aren’t already familiar with Hellripper’s work, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags is a must-hear.
Congratulations on your forthcoming album, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags. I was really impressed by the music. Is there anything that you want listeners to know going into it?
Yeah, it’s my third full-length album. The overarching theme is Scotland. Each song is inspired in its own way by Scotland, whether it be folklore, the darker side of Scottish history, or the works of Robert Burns. Yeah, each song has a Scottish theme. I think this time around it’s a bit more of a diverse album than my previous albums, though it’s still a speed metal album at its core, I would say.
What are you most proud of in regard to the album?
I think overall this is my best album yet. I think the songs overall are better. I incorporated a wider range of influences. It was fun to bring in some other influences that I haven’t explored before with Hellripper. I’m just proud that I’ve made an album that I’m happy with, and I think all the songs are very good.
Yes, they’re excellent! You mentioned that Scotland is, of course, a big inspiration. Could you please tell me a little bit more about what drew you to the themes that you explore?
Yeah, so near the end of the writing process for the last album, The Affair of the Poisons , I moved to the Scottish Highlands. The environment is not usually something that affects my songwriting or inspiration. But being in the Highlands and being surrounded by these landscapes and the scenery — it really inspired me to kind of look further into Scottish folklore, Scottish history, and that kind of thing. I like to focus on the darker side of it. I thought originally that it would be a good idea to have a couple of songs exploring these themes on this new album, but after reading so much and having so many different things to speak about, I thought it would be nice to have an overall theme of Scotland on the album. And yeah, there’s plenty to speak about. So, I’ll probably be doing more of it in the future as well which should be fun!
We’d love to hear that! So, obviously, Hellripper is a blackened band. Could you please tell me what first drew you to black metal?
What first drew me to black metal?! So, I think it would probably be through bands like Venom and the first wave of black metal. I got into thrash first, and that led me to discover all these bands. I discovered blackened thrash and metal punk because at the time I got into metal, Darkthrone were in their metal punk, heavy metal-era. And then, looking back from there, just kind of exploring on YouTube and things like that. My preference for black metal is still on the thrashier side, of course. I’m still more of a thrash person. So, yeah, and just discovering things through the internet via YouTube recommendations or various websites, blogs, and all that kind of thing… There’s a lot to discover!
That’s for sure. Of course, I have my own definition of black metal, which is quite specific… So, I was wondering: What does black metal mean to you?
Black metal?! To be honest, I mean, like I say, I’m more interested in the thrash side of things, so I don’t have a personal idea of black metal, if you know what I mean. It’s just the music for me. It can be many different things. It can be atmospheric, thrashy, evil, and yeah. It’s kind of one of the metal genres that don’t really have any or many limitations, I think. Yeah, as long as the music’s good!
Speaking about not having any limitations, you were on the Peaceville compilation Dark Side of the Sacred Star  with Dødheimsgard, who are really out there in the most brilliant of ways! Mork, Snorre Ruch, Darkthrone, and many more amazing artists also contributed songs. If you could collaborate with any of the other featured contributors, who would you pick?
Darkthrone is obviously one of my favorite bands. I like the way they operate. They’re one of the inspirations for Hellripper as well, keeping it as a solo kind of DIY thing — seeing bands like Darkthrone kind of doing everything almost on their own, just the two of them recording themselves as well, or at least they were for a period of time… So, that would be great! Or Mork’s a great contemporary band as well! I spoke with Thomas [Eriksen] when we were in Norway a couple of months ago, and he’s a real cool guy! So, those two, I think, would probably be most fitting for my interests and my preferences.
And Thomas, aside from being a fantastic musician, also has the best podcast!
Yeah, I’ve listened to quite a few episodes of that, and he always gets the great guests.
He does! How great has it been for you to work with the legendary Peaceville Records?
Yeah, it’s been great. It’s similar to what it was before, just with a bit more reach, a bit more promotion, a bit more resources, really. Yeah, I just do everything on my own still, and if I need advice or if I need help or whatever, I get in touch with Peaceville… It’s been very easy, very natural to work with them. I’m kind of left to do what and I want to do and then they come in at the end and do their part. It’s been a great working relationship, I think!
I really admire Peaceville because it seems like they really understand their artists. So, I read that the reason why Hellripper is a one-man band is because you couldn’t find anyone else with similar taste in music. Do you feel that the challenge to do this on your own has made Hellripper more individualistic and perhaps better?
Yeah, I think so. Definitely better in my eyes, I think. Of course, if there were other people involved, they’d be able to contribute ideas and influences that I wouldn’t think of. That may improve the end product, or it may dilute the end product — it may make it worse. But yeah, it is, I guess, a very kind of personal thing because it’s solely me doing everything. And I think that’s why it was a great experience bringing the Scottish theme in there as well to kind of make it even more personal in that respect. But yeah, it’s what I do: It’s my passion and my hobby — just writing and recording music. So, it’s great to be able to, being on my own. I can do it anytime I want without caring about other people’s schedules or if someone doesn’t like a riff that I really like. You know, when you get outvoted, then you have to take it out of the song or whatever. It’s just a thing I can do when I want and how I want. Usually, it reflects how I am at that time as well. Like some albums will sound more thrash because I was listening to a lot of thrash at the time — the same with punk and black metal. Different releases will kind of show where my head was at that particular time.
I’d love to hear a little bit more about the songwriting process and how you write lyrics.
Yeah, it’s quite simple, really. It’s just… usually, I’m sitting where I am right now with a guitar, and I just mess around on guitar for a few hours. Anytime something that sounds vaguely okay comes out, then I write it down, and I record it, and keep it in a little folder. And basically, I just repeat that process for however long it takes. Then, I usually look at what I have written down and try to expand upon it — usually, again, just by messing around on guitar, seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t work. And that’s really the music writing process, and I just I tab — I put everything on some tab-writing software, so I can write out the drum parts and things. So, before I record the tracks, I have a MIDI — an almost finished MIDI version of the song, which kind of acts as a demo. This makes the recording process a lot easier because I kind of know what I’m doing at that point. The lyrics are just, again, similar: Anytime I read something or learn about something or have an idea, I write it down in a document or folder. I usually focus on lyrics after the music’s basically completely done. I just see what, sometimes, lyrics or song topics seem to suit certain songs better. You just get a kind of feel or an idea that this topic would fit. And yeah, I just kind of go from there. It’s not too complicated. It’s just… Everything kind of happens, I guess.
Has it been really hard for you to master all the instruments?
Kind of. I think the hardest part was learning how to record and improving my recording/mixing ability over the years. Of course, the vocals always take a while to record because it takes quite a lot out of me to do vocals. And if you’re ill or if you’re not feeling up to it, you can’t get the best vocal take or whatever. So, that can delay things: You have to wait until you’re feeling better or feeling up to it or whatever. But yeah, I think overall the recording… was the trickiest thing to maneuver for me. I’m improving, I think, over the years. Again, that’s one of the reasons Hellripper started as well. I wanted to improve my skills at recording and songwriting, and I just wanted to see what I could do on my own. It’s a fun learning process as well… And yeah, I’m still learning over the years. I still have a lot to learn. I still have a lot to do.
Given that, what’s the thing you learned from this album that surprised you the most?
I think I learned probably that I can incorporate a lot of different influences into the Hellripper sound and still make it heavy without diluting it. For example, throughout this album I was listening to a lot to my usual favorites like Venom, Darkthrone, Metallica, Annihilator, Megadeth, and all that kind of stuff. But this time around, I was listening to a lot of like ‘90s rock and some classics. I was listening to the classic stuff like AC/DC, the Beatles, Black Sabbath. And then, I was listening to a lot of like ‘90s stuff like Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Manic Street Preachers, Nirvana, for example. And yeah, a lot of other metal stuff that I haven’t really incorporated into Hellripper before — Edge of Sanity, Opeth, Agalloch, Type O Negative, stuff like that. It was quite good and quite liberating knowing that I could find a way to put all these other interests, influences of mine, into the Hellripper sound and not dilute the sound.
What has been your favorite part of your journey so far?
My favorite part is just writing songs. Again, it’s what I love doing. I love writing songs and constantly writing and recording something. So, yeah, I’m just happy that I get to keep doing that.
We’re happy about that as well! Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?
I don’t think so. The album is out on February 17 — Warlocks Grim and Withered Hags — through Peaceville Records. I’d really appreciate if people had a listen.
I second that statement — I urge readers to order their copies [here] now!