Ritual Hymns – Worm Shepherd Album Review

Artist: Worm Shepherd
Album: Ritual Hymns
Release Date: 14 January 2022
Country: USA
Genre: Blackened Deathcore
Label: Unique Leader Records

Members:
Vocals | Devin Duarte
Guitars | Brandon Cooper
Guitars | Ryan Ibarra
Guitars | Tre Purdue
Drums | Leo Worrell McClain

A new year has begun and another year of music awaits us. 2021 was undoubtedly the year blackened
deathcore dominated the scene. With younger and more upcoming bands like Lorna Shore and Mental
Cruelty coninuing to make waves in the scene while predecessors like Carnifex and The Breathing
Process made major comebacks, Worm Shepherd quietly sat back, offering a re-release of their 2020
debut album as an appetizer while they were cooking up something incredible in the kitchen and I guess
the only question that comes to mind now is, ‘Was it worth the wait?’
Well, I for one can say with a resounding ‘yes’ that Ritual Hymns is by far the greatest and the most
refined of the union between black metal and deathcore. I would even go so far as to say that this album
even manages to blur the lines between the two genres. So much so that black metal fans might think of
it as legitimate black metal while core fans can still get their fill of breakdowns, guttural vocals, and
moments of speedy technical prowess all wrapped up in one, compact, and unique little package of
dynamite.
Ritual Hymns is more than just a successor to In The Wake Ov Sol. It is the evolution of the band and
their craft, but, on steroids. All the positive aspects that I praised in my review of their previous work has
not only been built upon, but, it has been explored in many unique and fascinating ways. So much so
that if there were any negative impressions on some tracks, they were all but washed away whenever
the music decided to do something out of left field that it would completely shatter my expectations.
With that being said, let’s dig into the meat and potatoes of the music. The first thing that any newcomer
to this band will notice is that, unlike other blackened deathcore outfits who either rely on brooding and
epic orchestral synths to distract you from the fact that their music is still 100% deathcore in composition
and tropes or blend the black metal and deathcore elements in a perfect 50/50 ratio, Worm Shepherd
have instead opted to take their 60/40 ratio from In The Wake Ov Sol, and ramp it up to something like
80/20. This means you are getting a record that is very much 80% black metal or at the very least
blackened death metal for those who are purists out there mixed with a 20% helping of deathcore that is
still made up of some sprinkles of tech death and slam thrown in for good measure.
The black metal side of this record is hauntingly dark and beautiful in every aspect you can think of.
From the atmospheric synths, the soaring orchestrals, the most evil sounding vocals, and the absolutely
top notch drumming, every moment is just filled with deliciously malevolent ear candy and leaves you
craving for more. The best part is that neither the soundscape or the meldoies of the black metal riffs feel
like generic, uninspired clones of the bands that came before. Worm Shepherd manage to combine the
sounds and melodies that can be traced back to some of the biggest names or currently hot artists in the

black metal scene right now all while still retaining their own identity and giving the band their own
distinct identity.
While listening to this record, I kept on picking up elements from a variety of bands from many different
styles of black metal. Whenever the riffs where soaring and epic, I was reminded of bands like Dimmu
Borgir, Cult Of Fire, Akhyls, Aara, or Emperor who are known for their ability to make their riffs
compliment their keyboard and orchestral parts while the more evil and fast riffs on this album would
remind me of the heaviest bands in the genre like Behemoth, Dark Funeral, or more hybrid bands like
Anaal Nathrakh.
As I said before, while I could still pick out such moments as being influenced by the aforementioned
bands, it doesn’t feel like copies or imitations for gimmick purposes. Worm Shepherd take these riffs and
use them to not only create some of the most truly chaotically evil sounds known to man, but, they are
able to make each track flow with melody and melancholic atmospheres before punching you in the face
with heavy breakdowns or slams.
Some of my favourite tracks that do this would be Ov Sword And Nail and The Raven’s Keep which greet
your ears with beautiful and deceptive intros like either a groovy bass line or chanting vocals with
classical guitar accompaniment only to suddenly pivot into some of the nastiest and most sinister
sounding black metal that, as it progresses, proceeds to take you by the hand and throw you head first
into a gaping abyss made up of nothing but the most grotesque sounding vocals that humans are
capable of making along with the heaviest breakdowns ever composed. The use of atmosphere and
melody as a build up towards the heavy moments really makes each breakdown pay off and feel earned
instead of forced or out of place.
Vocally speaking, this is by far the best performance that Devin Duarte has done to date. While I do still
miss some of the ranges and styles he was doing when he was simply known as Devin To Embers,
Ritual Hymns really showcases how much he has learned and grown since his debut. In my review of In
The Wake Ov Sol, I compared his ranges to that of vocalists such as Dani Filth from Cradle Of Filth,
Keisuke of Deviloof, and Kyo of Dir En Grey, however, I’m extremely happy to also say that, as far as hid
mid-range vocals are concerned, I could clearly hear the inspiration in tone and technique from Tom
Barber’s unique approach to vocals both back in the day with Lorna Shore and his current work in
Chelsea Grin and Darko US. Not to mention his disturbingly beastly gutturals which, in tracks like The
River Ov Knives, he uses to great effect both for narration purposes and for even subverting our
expectations as to what to expect from a deathcore vocalist before dropping the breakdown. Especially
after what we have been hearing since Infant Annihilator and Lorna Shore made the goblin snort trend
popular.
The album also features guest vocals from two other blackened deathcore bands. The first being Lucca
Schmerler of Mental Cruelty who appears on the track Blood Kingdom (A Deathless Shade). Now,
Schmerler is known for more slam and deathcore approach to vocals akin to that of Duncan Bentley of
Vulvodynia but with some of his own twists to it. Lucca’s vocals not only compliment the instrumentation
very nicely, but, his ability to enunciate words more clearly during his mid-range growls plus the fact that
being blessed with a deep chest cavity thanks to his sheer height and muscular build really makes his
brand of vocals project more and seem louder in comparison to Devin. This give the track the feeling that
you are watching two monsters of differing degrees of terror, team up on go on a rampage destroying all
in their path.
The second guest vocal spot is from none other than the legendary Scott Ian Lewis of blackened
deathcore pioneers, Carnifex. Scott has come a very long way since those early days of the MySpace
deathore scene. Listening to his vocals betwwen their first album and some of the re-recordings of their
iconic tracks on 2021’s Graveside Confessions is like listening to two completely different people. Scott
has become well known for not only having some of the best growls and gutturals in deathcore, but, his
crisp black metal inspired highs are something many a young, budding vocalist has definitely taken
influence from. The way his segment of the track A Bird In The Dusk (The Court Ov Owls) is not only one
of the coolest transitions on this record, but, could easily be mistaken for an audio clip from a triple A
developed horror game.
As much as I love Carnifex, their brand of blackened deathcore often feels a little repititive and still leans
too much on the death metal core side of the genre which prevents it from fully having that kvlt feel about
their music. However, the segment Worm Shepherd wrote with him in mind only proves the point that I
have made in many discussions with friends since becoming a Carnifex fan and a fan of black metal that
black metal bands need to start featuring Scott on a lot more of their material. Scott’s segment has a
more ebb and flow narration styled approach for his vocals and really harkened back to some of the stuff
I heard on Akhyls last album. Ghoulish and malevolent in every aspect, this is what a collaboration
between the new generation and the founders of a genre should always sound like when remembering
what came before while using other techniques.

The final thing I want to touch on is the brilliant drumming and astounding production. Leo Worrel
McClain is a very underrated and overlooked drummer and his style and technique clearly take influence
from some of the best drummers in both black metal and tech death. There is not a single track where
his drumming doesn’t shine nor does it eclipse and overshadow the rest of the instruments. If anything,
Leo’s sudden changes between slow, rythmic, and hypnotic interludes to ear splittling blast beats, double
kicks, and gravity blasts can take even the most simple of riffs and give them a very different tone and
form based on what he adds to the tempo. This keeps the listener on their toes and makes every track
feel exciting and adrenaline fueled.
As for the production, this is a major step up from In The Wake Ov Sol where the band tried, like The
Breathing Process, to balance the more lo-fi sound of black metal with the heavier moments from
deathcore. On this album, everything is high production, but, in the same way a Behemoth album is high
production where the core aspects of the black metal genre are not lost just because the production is
more polished and refined. Don’t get me wrong, I love my raw sounding black metal, but, sometimes the
more professional stuff can be just as good as the original.
Ritual Hymns is, simply put, the perfect marriage between all the melodic, dramatic, epic, atmospheric,
and cinematic qualities of black metal with all the heaviness, brutality, and adrenaline of deathcore. I
would even go so far as to say that Worm Shepherd are officially the undisputed kings of blackened
deathcore, even better than Lorna Shore (that is until we see what they have got cooked up for later this
year). But if I gave their last record a 9/10, then Ritual Hymns is defintely an 11/10 in every single way. It
was definitely worth the wait and definitely worth the hype and I look forward to what Devin and the gang
have in store for us next time. Pick up a copy of Ritual Hymns via Unique Leader Records today and
blare it loud for all the wood animals to hear. It’s time to sacrifice some goats and summon all manner of
supernatural horrors.
Rating: 9/10
Written By: Russell Gainsford

Band Links:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WormShepherdBand
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wormshepherd/
Bandcamp: https://wormshepherd.bandcamp.com/
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7hsOYe7y8uBqV4UUsVne73
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCByN9i-Pm7D1YnbZfZI4lVA
Big Cartel: https://wormshepherd.bigcartel.com/