REVIEW: Worm Shepherd – Ritual Hymns [2022]

Artist: Worm Shepherd
Album: Ritual Hymns

The holidays are a wonderful time of year—not only because there’s a sense of genuine, non-denominational joy that comes alongside snowmen, lights and Santa hats, but because some of the best pieces of cinema and videographer storytelling come out around the New Year. People flock to theaters and immerse themselves in tales of action, love, fear, drama or comedy—fantasy or eerily real, festive or fearsome—some of the best stories we get all year come out when the year turns over. As it so happens—and it doesn’t always happen—this year we also get a strong musical component, as the New Year is ushered in by some of heavy music’s most anticipated releases. It's fitting that, this January, a time rife with Pagan holiday and tradition, the grim, medieval-sounding symphonic-turned-blackened deathcore act Worm Shepherd happen to be among them. Ritual Hymns, coming in hot on the heels of their debut full length release, is a brand-spanking-new collection of gut wrenching cuts that further blur the line between sludgy, dissonant black metal and bone-busting deathcore. Laden with skin-rending percussion juxtaposed harshly against droning, rumbling guitar, Worm Shepherd give the listener a gritty, nose-first dive into the New Year with a remorseless example of ruthless metal.
Ritual Hymns—in a manner not dissimilar from In The Wake of Sòl—confidently strides the line between vivid black metal and primal deathcore. Songs like the record’s opening (and titular) number, as well as “Chalice ov Rebirth” and “A Bird in the Dusk” see this as plainly as day. Here, Worm Shepherd contrast blistering percussion with soaring, overarching guitar harmonies with eerie, haunting leads. “A Bird in the Dusk” feels forlorn and downtrodden, practically drenched in despair, while the more anthemic and energetic “Chalice ov Rebirth” combines a hefty ladle of death metal into Worm Shepherd’s figurative melting pot of metallic influence. Ritual Hymns’ more metallic songs may be less heavy in the traditional, breakdown-driven sense—but they remain heavy in a different way. These songs see the band crafting entire landscapes between pummeling percussion, rumbling bass and soaring fretwork—a figurative ecosystem of sound, which when combined with grisly vocals that practically eviscerate the listener with a wet, wicked low end creates something dense and dissonant that hits almost as hard as the band’s ten-ton breakdowns.
At the end of the day, however, Worm Shepherd remain a band with one foot planted firmly in the “deathcore” territory—and songs like the epic closer, “Winter Sun,” as well as “Ov Sword and Nail” and “The River ov Knives” see the band in peak blackened deathcore form. Here, the band’s penchant for the anthemic, atmospheric black metal background isn’t lost—however it serves as a landscape for a series of prolapse-inducing breakdowns and slams which send the listener Hellhound. Here, the band’s vocal element truly shines, with guttural bellows that flow with an unremarkably smooth cadence. This isn’t new to Worm Shepherd, however: they’ve always brought an outstanding vocal element with low, fluid gurgles that work excellently with their stuttering, slam-tinted breakdowns. Where their debut full length record felt almost overwhelmed with breakdowns that sounded too similar to be engaging and impressive throughout, Ritual Hymns rectifies that problem by spacing them out and switching them up. True—every now and again, the band falls into the same habit of using a near-homogenous syncopation of buttery-but-filthy bellows over a choppy series of chugs, but its been honed and refined into an element that’s truly a treat to experience when it happens—and not something that’s standard across each song. 
Ritual Hymns is a rich display of blackened deathcore with enough diversity and embrace of black and death metal to avoid monotony or sounding like the same “spooky” breakdown for 35 minutes. What’s more is that Worm Shepherd seem to have actually managed to refine and improve their sound—perhaps learning from some criticism—while still turning a record around less than a year after their debut. With a more tolerable runtime, less copy-paste heaviness and more instrumental variety, Ritual Hymns is a huge step up for these young peddlers of sonic putrefaction—and its all the more exciting to think that at this rate, we might get a near-perfect record from them in just another 12 months.

For Fans Of: Lorna Shore, Mental Cruelty, Funeral Wake, Signs of the Swarm
By: Connor Welsh