Ringworm hit pay-dirt when they released full-length number four in 2005, "Justice Replaced By Revenge," a watershed release that found the band taking on a more metallic sound opposed to the hardcore-based roots that was their bread and butter on every record prior to that one. And now flash forward nine years to full-length effort number eight, and Ringworm are continuing down that same path that they first trail-blazed several years ago. In fact, 2014's "Hammer Of The Witch" actually plays more like a piece of full-on thrash metal than anything else, and one that is only occasionally tinged with hardcore elements (i.e. hardcore-derived chugga-chugga breakdowns, call-and-response vocal patterns, etc).
"Hammer..." is mainly the guitarists show, as they lay the uncork a nonstop succession of blistering riffage and solos. But their potency is furthered by a rhythm section that could bust-up concrete, with Ed Stephens laying down some seriously fat bass lines, while his counterpart, Danny Zink, provides the tunes with drumming that is tight and precise. It all makes for one really muscle-bound batch of relentlessly brutal and busy arrangements. And it is all topped off by "singer" James "Human Furnace" Bulloch, whose screamed vocals usually sound like a cross between Shadows Fall's Brian Fair and Slayer's Tom Araya. Other sound-wise comparisons include early Metallica, Kreator, Anthrax, The Haunted, and Corrosion Of Conformity.
Getting right to the point, if you want much (if any) variety and/or sonic experimentation in your music, you might as well look elsewhere, as "Hammer Of The Witch" is pretty much a thrash-fest from beginning to end. But that is not to say that there aren't just enough solid melodies, arrangement change-ups, everso subtle tempo shifts, and various other sonic nooks and crannies, present, here to produce a fair amount of standout tracks. And whether revving up the engines for a blistering, blood-pumping bruiser like "Bleed" (which finds ominous bass grumbling beneath charging thrash riffage and harsh, dissonant, call-and-response vocal patterns) or the ripping "Vicious Circle Of Life," which sandwiches a surprisingly tuneful guitar solo into its mix of blistering guitar leads, viscerally rumbling bass lines, and double-time drum thudding; or settling down into more restrained and mid-tempo territory (see the meaty, bass-heavy, muscle-bound chug of "Exit Life"), the arrangements always bristle with a crackling intensity.
The set-opening blast, "Dawn Of Decay," with its surprisingly slow and mournful intro followed by a solid, chugging thrash riff, and steady, grumbling, dirty-sounding bass line, is another one of the albums best songs, especially when considering how it picks up substantial speed and momentum, and eventually hits a blistering speed with a ripping thrash groove, buzzsaw guitar crunch, and pounding double bass drums. And the gruesomely-entitled "Leave Your Skin At The Door" is also good enough to qualify as one. The bass tone is extremely thick, murky, and washed-out-sounding in this track, although there is a pleasantly surprising lot of melody that finds its way into the mix, here, when the guitarists rip out a harmonic, Kirk Hammett-styled solo section that is actually quite ripping.
The intentionally comical "I Recommend Amputation," with its interesting, snaking bass lines and punishing, honest-to-god blast beat drumming (that comes thundering through the mix), helps to ensure things stay interesting and brutal. Other notable mentions include "King Of Blood," a blazing, whiplash-inducing thrasher with blistering, biting, Slayer-iffic picking (i.e. riffs and solos), pounding skins, and anthemic vocals; the very hooky gallop (that brings to mind "Slaughter Of The Soul"-era At The Gates) and sneaky, fast, mid-song tempo change (which is complete with a fiery pick slide) of "Die Like A Pig"; and the propulsive introductory drum solo that kicks off the heavily groovy set closer, "Height Of Revelation." And, of course, one must not forget to mention "We'll Always Have The End," another bass-heavy piece. This one features abrasive, angular chugging riffs, and a series of squealing, screaming guitar solos; but it is actually mostly of note for finding the bassist, Stephens, once again getting in on the action. The bass lines that he coughs up, here, are thoroughly pronounced and bottom-heavy, and the dude even gets to lay down some solid, grumbling bass soloing(!).
When considering its crisp production job, tight arrangements, blazing speed, compact songwriting, and potent delivery, the end result is one a darn solid (and even more satisfying) speedster from a band that knows exactly what they want to accomplish, and one that is, more-or-less, firing on all cylinders. And while the sense of same-y soundingness does eventually kick in, meaning there might not be any real classics on tap, here, there are more than a few songs that are well worth your time if you are into thrash, speed metal, raw metalcore, groove metal (even though "H.O.T.W." is not either of the last two mentioned subgenres), and crossover.