HELLRIPPER “Foul Beasts Abound”

By Dr. Abner Mality

Ever hear of the Nuckelavee? No? I’m not surprised. It is a hideous creature taken from the lore of the Orkney Islands, just off the shores of Scotland. It was something like a centaur, with both human and equine aspects, but making it especially horrid was that it had no skin and was covered with raw flesh. Add in a single glowing eye and a gaping mouth filled with fangs and you had a true nightmare beast, one that haunted the island residents since time immemorial.

Now where could you find the better subject for a metal tune than this monster? Nowhere. And Mr. James McBain of Scotland’s bloodthirsty HELLRIPPER has made the Nuckelavee the subject of a raging track on his new album “Warlocks Grim And Withered Hags”, which is devoted to the folklore and dark history of Scotland. The album rips from the start with a blazing combo of thrash and black metal elements and the lyrics explore subjects like The Mester Stoorworm, the incestuous cannibal clan of Sawney Bean and the blood tales of MacBeth. It’s a perfect merger of sound, idea and mood and absolutely one of my favorite records of 2023.

So time to scour the dark pubs of Edinborough to hook up with Mr. McBain and quiz him about the grim and gloomy underbelly of Scotland and surrounding isles...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  Greetings, Mr. McBain! I will say right off that I’m in the middle of reading a book of fairy lore of the British Isles...it’s a subject that fascinates me and I’ve written about “Black Dogs” and the like. What was the first folklore story of Scotland that you remember making a real impact on you? 

JAMES McBAIN: I think the Loch Ness Monster would probably be the first one I ever heard about - it’s probably one of the first things people from all over think about when you mention Scotland. 

I think the story of the ‘Gorbals Vampire’ is an important one for me as it’s the first one I wrote a track about a few years back. 

WC:  Is the subject of Scottish folklore something you’ve just started exploring on “Warlocks Grim and Withered Hags” or has it been a facet of HELLRIPPER from the start? 

JM: I’ve always been interested in Scottish folklore, but never really explored it in greater detail until the writing of this album. The album contains a lot of references to Scottish folklore, but the overarching theme is Scotland in general. Each song is inspired by Scotland in some way, whether it be folklore (eg. “The Nuckelavee” & “Mester Stoor Worm”), a Robert Burns poem (“Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags”) or Shakespeare’s MacBeth (“I, The Deceiver”). 

I have explored things like the North Berwick Witch Trials and the ‘Gorbals Vampire’ previously in “Black Arts & Alchemy” and “Vampire’s Grave” respectively, but it was a nice change to write about some things that I haven’t really looked at before. 

WC: What kind of process did you use to select the creatures and legends you write about on the new album? Will you be exploring more of this area in the future or will the lyrical focus change with each album? 

JM: There was no real process to selecting the topics on each song. I would make a note of anything interesting that I read about, and sometimes these notes would inspire a lyric or a rhythm. In other cases, I just felt that the topic fit the music (which is almost always written before I start thinking about lyrics).  I will definitely be exploring this area more in future tracks, as there’s so much more to write about and I have a lot of ideas that were not used on this album. 

WC: You really have made a quantum jump in the sound of HELLRIPPER on the new album. What were some of the new influences you’ve brought into it...there seems to be an almost folkish feel to the riffs in spots. 

JM: As well as the usual stuff like VENOM, ANNIHILATOR, MEGADETH, TOXIC HOLOCAUST, DARKTHRONE and so on, I was listening to a lot of different things during the writing and recording of this album and I think that drawing from a wider range of influences this time around allowed me to create a better album. I listened to a lot of stuff like EDGE OF SANITY, PORCUPINE TREE, OPETH & TYPE O NEGATIVE, I listened to a lot of the “classics” like AC/DC, BLACK SABBATH & THE BEATLES, I listened to a lot of 90’s rock such as ALICE IN CHAINS, NIRVANA, OASIS, MANIC STREET PREACHERS & SMASHING PUMPKINS and on the black metal side of things, I listened to a lot of WATAIN & AGALLOCH. 

WC: Despite the progression in the band, every song still rips along in fast and furious extreme metal fashion. How important was it to retain the savage metal edge without diluting things? 

JM: I want HELLRIPPER to remain a thrash/speed metal band at its core, so I have no intention of diluting things or changing things too drastically. I do want to experiment and bring in other influences etc., but it has to fit with the sound and aesthetic of HELLRIPPER. 

WC: HELLRIPPER seems to be a 100% solo project. That is a difficult path to walk sometimes. Was it just a feeling to keep things purely your own vision or was it just hard finding others to share that vision? 

JM: The band began as a solo project primarily because I couldn’t find others that shared my vision, but over the years I found that I much preferred working on my own, and so I have kept it that way and doubt that will change any time soon. It gives me more freedom to do things how I want and when I want - there’s no need to compromise on the sound, and I don’t need to rely on anyone else to get things done. 

WC:Can HELLRIPPER pretty much be considered a studio only project then or is there some future chance you will play live? 

JM: I do have a live band and we have been playing shows quite consistently for the past few years now. We’ll continue to play shows, and hopefully we’ll be able to visit more places that we have not yet been to. 

WC:  What was the most challenging aspect of doing every instrument? Was there one instrument that really gave you more trouble than another? 

JM: Vocal recording always takes the longest for me. It usually takes me a while to find the best way to make the vocals fit the songs - sometimes a part might require lower/higher vocals or perhaps a more “shouted” style etc. and of course, if I get ill or am not feeling up to it, then I can’t get things done to the best of my ability and so that can delay things a little. 

WC: Getting back to the folklore aspects, what would you say is the most fascinating tale you’ve dealt with on the new album? 

JM: I’m not sure about most fascinating, but “Mester Stoor Worm” was a fun song to write. The structure on that one is more “linear” than what I usually do, and the music closely follows

the narrative. Of course, it’s a great story and that lent itself well to this kind of track as it allowed for a wide variety of different parts and gave the track some dynamics. 

WC:  Two Scottish legends that have always interested me have been the “Big Grey Man” of Ben MacDhui Mountain and the Curse of the Brahan Seer. Are these subjects you may tackle in the future?

JM: The Brahan Seer was actually a candidate for a song topic early on in the process but for some reason I didn’t use it. So they are subjects that I might write about in future for sure! 

WC:  It was only a couple of generations ago when rural folk lived and died by these legends. They were afraid to travel by night and kept customs alive that went back hundreds of years if not longer. Do you see yourself kind of as the modern day bard who keeps the lore and customs alive but using metal instead of traditional music? 

JM; I wouldn’t go that far, but I do have an interest in these legends and the paranormal, and this time around I wanted to tie it in with the environment that surrounds me. I live in an inspiring place that drips with legends and folklore and it made sense to utilise that in my storytelling. It is nice to write about something that’s not so common in the speed metal realm, and it may lead people to discovering more about Scotland and its folklore beyond Nessie! 

WC: The cover art is magnificent. Tell us the story behind this masterpiece. 

JM: Usually I prefer to get a custom piece commissioned for my albums, however when I was browsing through Adam Burke’s work (one of my favourite artists), I came across this painting that I immediately wanted to use. 

To reflect the music on this album, I wanted something ominous and a little more subtle than what I have had in the past and this fit my vision perfectly. Coincidentally, it can also tie in with the album’s themes and songs. The goat and rider could be interpreted as something similar to “The Nuckelavee”, the weird and psychedelic nature of the goat ties in with “Goat Vomit Nightmare” and the three figures (or withered hags) are represented in “I, The Deceiver” for example. 

WC: Are you involved in any other musical projects or is HELLRIPPER your sole focus? 

JM: I have a few other musical projects in various states, and I will release something else other than HELLRIPPER stuff at some point, but for now the main focus is HELLRIPPER. I’m already working on a couple of EPs and the next album, so hopefully I’ll have at least something new out in 2024. 

WC: Are there any other Scottish acts we should know about? I know SAOR is one…


WC: If you could have dinner with any three people from history, who would they be? 

JM: I’ll stick with musicians and say Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne & James Hetfield. I’m here for the stories. 

WC:  Any last words for the fans out there? Thanks for your time! 

JM: Thanks for supporting HELLRIPPER, and check out the new album ‘Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags’ on February 17th! All Hail the Goat!