Everything about this rules, let’s face it. WORM SHEPHERD have been hotly tipped by disciples of deathcore and modern death metal for some time now, not least due to the self-evident excellence of the band’s 2020 debut “In The Wave Ov Sol”. Subsequently snapped up by UNIQUE LEADER RECORDS, the band demonstrated such maturity and ingenuity first time out that it will come as no surprise to fans of this stuff that “Ritual Hymns” is an absolute fucking monster. All hail the fearlessness of youth: WORM SHEPHERD sound ever more like the finished article here, as they weave sick and viscous symphonies of blackened brutality, all rendered in shocking, vivid colors and played with the kind of snarling commitment that simply cannot be faked.
There is plenty of precedent for this stuff, of course. From CRADLE OF FILTH and DIMMU BORGIR, to BLEEDING THROUGH and THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, extreme metal has embraced the cinematic, the gothic and the symphonic with great enthusiasm over the decades, and WORM SHEPHERD are certainly another variation on that age-old theme. What separates “Ritual Hymns” from most comparable pieces of work is that these songs exhibit a sophisticated sense of fluidity and flow, as if they have been crafted like orchestral movements, rather than just a series of riffs connected with spooky atmospherics.
This band are as thuggish and knuckleheaded as they want to be, however: the likes of “Ov Sword and Nail” and “Blood Kingdom” throw up breakdowns of heroic unpleasantness, but even those more familiar tropes seem to have been manipulated and dragged deeper into their creators’ pitch-black well of inspiration. “The Raven’s Keep” is a particular highlight, from its eerie intro and incremental build to its pitiless blasting and the high-tension, emotional rush of its multi-layered crescendos and moments of sinister respite. Likewise, “A Bird in the Dusk” is wonderfully creepy and theatrical. Six minutes of coruscating shadows, seamless tempo shifts and neo-classical bombast, it’s a genuinely riveting and refined bit of songwriting.
The closing “Winter Sun” is greater still. WORM SHEPHERD have clearly unearthed the true potential of this oft-tapped hybrid: here, eight minutes fly by like a screeching demon, as this band’s glee at realizing their full potential seems to hit a new peak. From white-knuckle battery to a final, lobotomized collapse into suppurating sludge, it’s the kind of bullish tour-de-force that you might expect from scabby-knuckled veterans, rather than from such a fresh force. Nonetheless, “Ritual Hymns” slays, slams and eviscerates from end to end, and WORM SHEPHERD are the very definition of (evil) ones to watch.