Aberdeen’s Hellripper are crashing through the UK underground with their thrashed-up, blackened speed metal onslaught. HRH Mag’s Rich Holmes met mainman James McBain to see why his DIY project is putting the Granite City on the map.
Aberdeen may have built its modern-day economy on North Sea oil, but it’s a different kind of black gold that’s pouring from the port city at the moment. Hellripper are pumping out a volatile mix of speed, black and thrash metal, a raw fuel source that harnesses the energy of Motörhead, TANK, Venom and Sodom, and is coated with a layer of grimy crust. And it’s now getting noticed both across the border and overseas, with offers of shows across Europe hitting the band’s inbox.
Hellripper is the brainchild of James McBain – who records solo in his home studio and embraces a DIY approach, from production to promotion. The act first emerged in 2015 with The Manifestation of Evil EP and, after a series of splits, unleashed a debut full length, Coagulating Darkness, last year. Praised for the sheer force of its riffs and the visceral quality of McBain’s songwriting, it’s fair to say that the album helped to cement Hellripper’s reputation as one the UK’s hottest underground outfits – and a potential rival to the likes of Midnight, Toxic Holocaust et al.
McBain, a final year student at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, isn’t letting the grass grow under his feet though: a prolific musician who plays in several other projects, the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist contributed a track (Hellkvlt Warfare Kommando) to the recently-released Speed Motörized Bastards Split cassette on Basement Records, where he’s been joined by Nightrider, Wasteland Riders and Dulvel.
A new EP is in the works too and there are plans for a split with Rio De Janeiro’s fast-rising Whipstriker, while a fully formed live band is taking Hellripper’s infernal anthems on the road: up next is a prominent slot at Full Metal Haggis in May, Scotland’s first outdoor metal festival.
It’s not bad for a project, which, as the amiable frontman explains, had humble beginnings. “Basically I was just writing songs in my own bedroom: there was no one else around me at the time who was interested in the same music and interested in playing that style of music,” McBain recalls. “I decided to learn how to program drums and just recorded it in my room for a bit of fun really. The first EP was just recorded and released because I thought some people in the local scene might like it.
“However, it was more people from outside the scene that took notice. I wasn’t really involved in the underground scene, I listened to the music but I wasn’t fully aware of how distros worked, I didn’t know how labels worked so didn’t know I would get that type of feedback. People seemed to enjoy it and I got a couple of tape releases.
“I carried on writing, improving the recording quality, improving the songs and seeing if I could get more exposure. Around the same time I decided to develop a live band as well so I could get gigging.”
He seems genuinely surprised by the reaction to Coagulating Darkness, which was released by Aberdeen-based label Granite Factory Records. “There was very minimum promotion for it – it was mostly word of mouth,” he says. “In the time from the EP to the album we changed quite a bit, you can still tell it’s the same band but it’s a lot more thrash, speed, a lot more guitar solos and stuff as opposed to the EP, which had a more crusty feel.
“I thought a few people might not like that but it actually got me into another scene, it got me more fans – more thrash and speed fans, which was cool. It got a far better reaction than I thought and I am glad!”
McBain is not alone in taking full control of his musical output: one-man/woman black metal acts are myriad and Toxic Holocaust, which inhabits a similar charred sonic landscape to Hellripper, is essentially the fiefdom of frontman Joel Grind. It’s an approach that makes sense to the Scot: “There is a lot of freedom in it, you can do what you want. There is no compromise at all, whatever I think is good I can put out. And since I record at home I can record the same song for seven months or whatever and take the time to do it.”
Hellripper’s founder is not averse to bringing in some hired guns into the studio though, as and when necessary. He welcomes guest solos and guest vocals when they improve his songs. Plus, McBain is aware of his own limitations too. “Something that I can’t do, like very high screams… I get my girlfriend to do that, he admits. “Like an Algy Ward-esque scream… I couldn’t reach those high notes!”
His dream collaborator? It’s Annihilator’s mainman. “I would love to get Jeff Waters to do a guitar solo, but if he did that and we had to play that song live… well good luck!” he says. “I just enjoy watching him, he’ll be speaking to the audience while playing the solo to Alice In Hell or something, it’s ridiculous.”
The new EP, he promises, will be akin to Artillery mixed with Darkthrone and Necrophobic and will also bridge the gap between Hellripper’s earlier, more punk-flavoured material and Coagulating Darkness. McBain has also started writing for a second full-length (“like Coagulating Darkness, but with more depth to it”).
He remains firmly committed to continuing in the same vein when it comes to Hellripper. McBain’s other projects (including post-punk outfit Lock Howl and Swedish-style death metal act Lord Rot), he says, give him ample room for manouevre when he wants to spread his wings.
Hellripper certainly aren’t going to be taking any diversions into progland that’s for sure. And McBain is steadfast in his love for the global scene which Hellripper can now call home. “With bands like Midnight and Toxic Holocaust, it’s undeniably metal but it’s so simple and it has such a great punk edge that everyone can get into it,” he says. “Toxic Holocaust play gigs with Discharge. Then they play with Satyricon. They can be appreciated by everyone.
“This is my favourite style of music. I just like fast, two-minute songs!”
For more info, check out https://hellripper.bandcamp.com/