There was once a time when black metal was something of an elitist genre where anything deemed remotely “mainstream” was dismissed without a second thought. However, times have changed and with the genre exploring other musical avenues such as post-rock/metal, it comes as no surprise to find bands like Massachusetts quintet Worm Shepherd popping up on the radar with their new disc, Ritual Hymns.

Teaming up with the likes of Alex Koehler of Chelsea Grin, David Simonich of Signs of the Swarm and Adam Mercer of A Wake in Providence. would once have been something deemed unthinkable but the emergence in the past eighteen months of fellow death/black metal slayers Lorna Shore has seen that mindset change due to the acceptance by more mainstream metal fans. Unsurprisingly then, given the list of deathcore guests on Ritual Hymns, listening to Worm Shepherd hurtle into opener “Ritual Hymns,” you can see instant similarities between the two acts. Symphony-tinged fury is the order of the day with a definite lean towards blackened death metal with more than a slight nod of appreciation towards the techy/slam world.

Elsewhere on the album, “Ov Sword and Nail,” “Chalice of Rebirth” and “Wilted Moon” see the five-piece deliver a savage black/death metal onslaught laced with epic symphonics. Maintaining a frantic pace throughout the record, Worm Shephard might never be welcomed into the black metal world by “trve” element of its fanbase. However, if you are a fan of the new wave of blackened death metal then Ritual Hymns should tick all your boxes. The songs have a haunting, dark, foreboding air about them with the relentless blasts, breakneck guitar assault and filthy vocals, piercing through the denseness created by the band.

Vocalist Devin Duarte utilizes that saliva-drenched style made famous by Lorna Shore frontman Will Ramos but, far from aping the blackened deathcore flavour of the moment, Duarte has his own superb range of throat-shredding highs and bowel-rupturing lows to match the music. So, whether it be frenetic tear-ups like “Blood Kingdom” or doomy, morose breakdowns as demonstrated at the end of the epic “The River Ov Knives,” Worm Shephard has a frontman who can deliver a ferocious performance.

A scintillating, savage, epic offering, Ritual Hymns is the kind of album that, alongside recent material by the likes of Lorna Shore, should continue to open up the more accessible blackened death metal spike of the genre to a wider fanbase. Whether or not the “trve” element of the black metal scene will welcome them with open arms is another matter entirely which is a pity because, should they not, they’re missing out on one hell of a quality piece of work.

Ritual Hymns Track Listing:

1. Ritual Hymns
2. Ov Sword and Nail
3. The Raven’s Keep
4. Chalice ov Rebirth
5. Blood Kingdom
6. Wilted Moon
7. A Bird in the Dusk
8. The River ov Knives
9. Winter Sun

Run Time: 54:17
Release Date: January 14, 2022
Record Label: Unique Leader

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.