Review – Ringworm: Snake Church

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  • Bio: "RINGWORM was spawned in 1991 from the metal scene in Cleveland, Ohio. ' - Facebook
  • Label: Relapse Records
  • Release Date: July 29th, 2016
  • Genre: Hardcore, Thrash
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Cleveland, Ohio’s Ringworm initially came into existence back in 1991, though most people [including myself for the longest time] didn’t know this, nor that their debut album was The Promise in 1993 through Incision Records. What followed was a brief hiatus for the hardcore thrash act, reforming in 1999 and signing to Victory Records for their long overdue 2001 follow-up Birth is Pain. Since then, its been all uphill for the group, carving a name in the ever-expanding world of metal and hardcore. They currently sit with Relapse Records and, following a line-up change in 2014 that saw the inclusion of drummer Ryan Steigerwald and guitarist Mark Witherspoon (Solipsist), we’re now given the group’s seventh full-length entry, Snake Church. But is the venom as potent as the last bite, or has this beast been defanged?

In keeping with the album’s name, Snake Church finds itself focusing more on a sharper, higher pitched output than 2014’s deeper sounding Hammer of the Witch. It helps to make the band sound pissed off overall with each track holding a distinct level of frustration one who is typically fed up with things will immediately latch onto. Sadly, it doesn’t quite feel as robust as it could be. The bass guitar is there with a lower presence with your random twang allowed to seep through like most of “Brotherhood of the Midnight Sun”. This is one of the more exceptional tracks thanks to that instrument’s dominance in the mix to complement that rebellious, yet still slightly melodic punk and so-cal influence from the sharpened guitars and catchy drum patterns. The gristled nasal shouting also suits the picture here, working with the all around enthusiastic performance a lot better than some of the other cuts.

Unfortunately you have some songs that just feel like they’re missing any real bite. “Fear the Silence” has a good amount of hardcore attitude, not to mention a solid brief chug just past the half way mark and decent breakdown not that much further along. The problem is that the abrasive pitch doesn’t really compliment some of the ritualistic passages that try to go much deeper in tone, turning an otherwise intimidating track into more of a beast that can only run to the end of its chain and bark. The same goes for “Shades of Blue” and its attempt to be eerie. The slower pace and layered vocals do make it a bit more punishing overall, and the heavy focus on the bass guitar and lower notes help paint a southern ritualistic sensation a number of doom metal bands would love to claim responsibility for. Sadly the higher pitch of the album overall makes it feel as though the song’s testicles really haven’t dropped yet, even when the aggressions kicks up briefly about three minutes in.

And when the band is just being their typical selves, you are led to some really catchy tracks. “The Black Light of a Living Ghost” comes at the listener daggers in hand with a stronger hardcore presence that exudes a little more ferocity behind it. The performance is like listening to a grindcore song without the grinding. It may not sound appealing, but the attitude found within does a good job selling it until the bland chugs and odd effects on the chanting towards the end. “Innocent Blood” just doesn’t have the bass presence to really support the higher pitched grooves being played to the point that, while present as more of a twang through the speakers, my subwoofer only let out a dull roar in the main verses even with bass boost on. Well that is until it switched to what sounded like a oompa beat for the chorus. And then there’s the explosive “Snake Church” which seems like it’d be a fantastic track, but in this case it actually sounds overproduced. The layered vocals really just take a lot away due to how linear they sound compared to the fairly technical music going on in the background, especially the drum presence which just feels buried behind everything else like it doesn’t really matter.

RingwormRingworm is one of those largely overlooked entries in the metal and hardcore worlds, and fans have come to expect great things from them. This is because album after album, the group delivers, often soaked in a venomous anger that just pours out of the speakers. Snake Church has all the potential to live up to that, but the mastering just brings everything to the level of laying in the desert dehydrating, waiting for something to come along and save you. Sure you get a random canteen with a little water in it once in a while, but by the time you’ve gone through more than a few spins you can’t help but want something that has a bite as equal as its bark, if not more so, finding yourself venturing to earlier albums or another band entirely.

Ringworm

Digital review copy of this release provided by Relapse Records via Freeman Promotions.