Released: 2014, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
After an on-again, off-again 20-some year career in the hardcore/metal trenches, and four albums with the hardcore-rooted Victory label, Cleveland's Ringworm offer their six studio full-length through the more grind-minded Relapse. It's certainly a fitting pairing.
Though propelled by the drill sergeant bellow of the aptly nicknamed James “Human Furnace” Bulloch, Hammer of the Witch has a persistent and prominent metal edge to it that cuts to the bone. Its crashing riffs, surprisingly frequent guitar solos and tradeoffs, thick, but fluid bottom end and horror-themed songs work in tandem with Bulloch's brute force delivery and the band's compact, concussive songwriting to make Hammer essentially the textbook “crossover” album.
The eerie cello intro to “Dawn of Decay” sets a metallic tone right away and ushers in a death thrashy melange of churning guitar, double-bass pummel and haunted house/insane asylum sound effects. But that gives way to the crisp, direct “Bleed” and “Leave Your Skin At The Door” that have a simpler, more classic hardcore feel - “Bleed” even boasts a short breakdown at its end, but it is gloriously hooky and infectious instead of thudding and rote.
“Exit Life” mixes things up a bit with racing, punchy verses and thundering choruses, whereas “Psychic Vampire” alternates between thrash and blast beat fury and is among the more definitively “metal” tracks here, along with “I Recommend Amputation,” which has an old Exodus tang to it, and the vicious title track.
“We'll Always Have The End” even offers some groove metal swagger with its loping bassline, but gives way to “One Of Us Has To Do Die,” “Vicious Circle of Life” and the hulking “Die Like A Pig” that rain hardcore haymaker hooks like nobody's business. “Pigs,” though, does conclude in a crescendo of squealing guitar that echoes Slayer's “Hell Awaits.”
The natural ease with which Ringworm move between styles makes for a seamless, well-balanced effort that will scratch the itch no matter what side of the hardcore/metal fence you may straddle. They do what they do without the calculation and obviousness of a lot of bands that seek to add “core” to their metal, or vice versa, and deliver a winning formula seemingly without even trying.