Allow me to break critical voice by opening this review with two anecdotes.
Anecdote #1: When Ringworm’s Relapse Records debut, 2014’s Hammer of the Witch, dropped, I jotted a few notes down for each track as I was listening. My notes for the third track were: “I feel like ripping all of my skin off and screaming, which is a good thing.” I then checked the tracklist to discover the track was titled “Leave Your Skin At The Door.”
Anecdote #2: The vocalist goes by the name Human Furnace. That’s the entire anecdote.
Both of these sum up Ringworm. They are, like the Slayers and Motörheads and AC/DCs of the world, a group that does one thing and does it well. In the case of Ringworm, they make metallic hardcore that is just metallic enough to make you want to just call it thrash metal most of the time. An interesting phenomenological event comes up at that thought: The reason why they aren’t called thrash has to do more with their teeth-bared ferocity, which often feels more applicable to metallic hardcore and crust in their case than thrash, but this is only because many of the major thrash bands of the past five or ten years have been relatively toothless compared to acts such as Dark Angel, Toxic Holocaust or Vektor. If Ringworm were to be described as a thrash band, they would be one that remembers well that thrash is a hybrid of traditional heavy metal and a lot of hardcore punk replacing the blues, like a hyper-stiffened and brutalist Judas Priest. On this more aggressive mark, Ringworm fits the bill well.
Ringworm doesn’t do difference, at least not really. There are the occasional slower tracks or slower riffs, but they feel like extended grimaces, like a song-length breakdown that you can image shirtless bellowing demons knocking each other loose in the pit too. For the most part, though, Ringworm sticks to the up-tempo, offering thrashing rippers replete with harmonized metallic guitar parts and a bass and drum combo that feels like they could propel the songs all by their lonesome if asked to. On top all of that is Human Furnace (Human fucking Furnace)’s singular vocal approach, a raw-throated scream that conveys more animalistic anger and despair than any metal or hardcore vocalist I can think of. Ringworm doesn’t sustain their career by changing up the formula but more by spacing out records, letting you sit with their previous shot of necessary adrenaline for a bit before returning for your next fix. In this way, Death Becomes My Voice doesn’t differentiate itself from their other records but more by choice than by accident.
What this means is that the measure of a Ringworm record is whether they successfully convey that rage right into your fucking bones. On that mark, Death Becomes My Voice is a success, albeit a lesser one than their deeply praised sophomore record Justice Replaced By Revenge or the aforementioned Hammer of the Witch. It doesn’t always have the same degree of rawness as either of those, a trait which pushed them right up against grind without tipping over and propelled them right for your throat and then, shortly after, you into the throats of your enemies. But Ringworm have been at this a long time and even falling slightly short of themselves places them in the upper echelons of effective hardcore-rooted music. This album still makes me want to recommit myself to activism and the defense of my diverse neighbors in my community and communities across the world, which is the ultimate and only thing hardcore really needs to do. Ringworm also wisely stay away from specific lyrics, erring to more evocative and emotionally-oriented lyrics rather than experiential or explicitly political ones. This allows the lotus flower of anger to blossom without it being tainted by dawning awareness of ickiness on the part of the band. (This is not meant as a knock to political or experiential lyrical themes, more as an acknowledgement that they are trickier to do well than more general emotional themes.)
All Ringworm needed to do was deliver another amphetamine steroid shot, one part rage (itself a mixture of anger and despair) and one part power. Death Becomes My Voice delivers this capably, mixing catchy hooks with primal hardcore power. If Ringworm were more prolific, perhaps its shortcomings compared to other records in their body of work would be more worrisome, but they also wisely apportion their albums to make this not an issue. Rejoice in rage: the Human fucking Furnace burns again.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.