Those who know the pain of going through airport security while wearing a bullet-belt will need no introduction to Hellripper's brand of blackened thrash and speed metal steel, but for everyone else, here's the skinny...
A one-man project of James McBain (that's the name that's on his phone bill, 'Hellripper' is on his business card), based out of the Scottish Highlands, the Hellripper discography is like a crash course in post-80s underground metal. You can hear that influence all over the guitar (opens in new tab) tones, and in McBain's frantic compositions.
“I really got into metal when I heard ...And Justice for All by Metallica, and Peace Sells… but who’s Buying? by Megadeth when I was about 14 or 15,“ he says. “I absolutely love the guitar on those albums and they are still two of my favourites!“
Thereafter, his tastes grew more extreme. McBain gravitated towards death metal bands such as Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel and Bloodbath, with YouTube's algorithm an accelerant for new underground discoveries.
“I would often just find great new music by looking at the related videos section on YouTube,“ he says. “Bands like Warbringer, Violator, Havok, Steelwing and Enforcer quickly became favourites.“
Putting Hellripper's sound together, writing and performing all the arrangements, has stretched McBain as a guitarist and a songwriter. “I never intended to be a lead guitarist and focused almost solely on my rhythm playing,“ he says. “It has forced me to be more creative and has benefitted my lead guitar playing a lot.“
McBain's rig is based around a Gibson Explorer and Marshall JCM900, with few pedals to dilute the fury. There is no shortage of melody in his songwriting but it is always orbiting the riff.
“The most important thing for me is a great guitar riff,“ he says. “Speed metal is a very guitar-driven style of music, so if you have a good riff or two, then you are off to a strong start! Of course, fast guitar solos are a big part of speed metal, and when done well, those Iron Maiden-esque guitar harmonies are great!“
After a run of singles and splits, Hellripper's sophomore album, The Affair Of The Poisons, is complete, awaiting release on 9th October.
Among those who will be paying attention is Darkthrone's Fenriz, an early champion of Hellripper's sound, and a band whose underground sensibility has had a huge influence on McBain.
“Darkthrone are one of my favourite bands, so of course it was really nice to hear that Fenriz liked the music!“ says McBain “It’s always an honour when a musician that you respect and whose work you enjoy shows some support for the music you make, and I’m very grateful for that!“
Of course, there's no question that Darkthrone will turn up on this list. The question is: which era?
1. Megadeth – Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? (1986)
“There’s not really any black metal in this album (aside from some Satanic lyrics?) but I had to include it as it is one of my favourite albums of all time and is one of the first albums that I heard (back in 2008) that made me a fan of thrash metal, and in turn led me to discover the more extreme styles of music.
“The guitar playing in this album is phenomenal and there’s no shortage of killer solos. The guitar work on this album is one of my biggest influences. I think this album contains the perfect balance of the chaotic speed metal present in the debut album and the technicality and great songwriting of Rust In Peace.“
2. Toxic Holocaust – Evil Never Dies (2003)
“Probably the most influential album for me when creating Hellripper. The primitive sound, the simplicity of the playing and the fact that Joel Grind created it all on his own really inspired me to get cracking with Hellripper.
“I was just getting into thrash at the time when I first heard this album and it was so different to what I had heard before.
“Like I mentioned previously, I had never focused on becoming a lead guitar player and this of course made it quite difficult to start a thrash band like Megadeth for example.
“But this album showed me that it was possible to play thrash without making the music complicated and that you didn’t need to be able to shred like Jeff Waters since the guitar solos were very minimal.“
3. Venom – Black Metal (1982)
“Strangely, I got into Venom a little bit later than I got into a lot of other bands no doubt influenced heavily by them. Their brand of rock ‘n’ roll/speed metal/whatever you want to call it coupled with the over-the-top Satanic imagery and oftentimes 'fun' lyrics appealed to me straight away.
“My favourite Venom album is probably the follow-up to this one, At War With Satan, but Black Metal is the first one I heard and the one that has influenced Hellripper most.“
4. Midnight – Satanic Royalty (2011)
“I first heard this album around the time that it was first released in 2011 or so… and I didn’t like it! Of course, my opinion has changed greatly since then and it’s now one of my favourite albums of all time.
“Like Toxic Holocaust, the music is relatively simple and it is a solo project (although it has a more rock ‘n’ roll sound as opposed to thrash), so again was an influence on me when creating Hellripper. This album is just filled with hooks and it’s easy to sing along with almost every part of it.“
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5. Sabbat – Evoke (1992)
“Sabbat are a band that I got into quite a bit later than most of the others on this list for some reason. I could have chosen almost any one of their albums since they are so consistent, but I think my favourite would be their second, Evoke.
“The album has the raw production like many early black metal releases but contains a lot of parts that wouldn’t be out of place on a Mercyful Fate track. I also love the use of some NWOBHM-type harmonies and melodies that when combined with the raw sound of the album – sounds evil!“
6. Cruel Force – The Rise Of Satanic Might (2010)
“I remember discovering Cruel Force on the related videos section on YouTube – most probably on a Toxic Holocaust or Midnight video. This is a straightforward black/thrash album containing incredibly catchy songs, and there’s even a really cool Bathory cover on there.
“The production is quite raw but is very well-balanced and works perfectly for this style of music.”
7. Darkthrone – Dark Thrones And Black Flags (
“I am a massive fan of the 2006-2013 era of Darkthrone in particular. I think I discovered this 'set' of albums when I was newly exposed to metal-punk somewhere around 2011 or '12. It’s difficult to choose just one album from that era but I think Dark Thrones And Black Flags edges it.
“To me, this album overall is their catchiest and contains a lot of great riffs despite the guitar playing being somewhat 'primitive'. Dark Thrones And Black Flags is the perfect middle-ground between the crust sound of Darkthrone’s preceding albums and the heavy metal sound of the following.“
8. Nocturnal – Arrival of the Carnivore (2005)
“Again, this is an album that I discovered in around 2011 or 12 through the related videos section on YouTube and one that immediately clicked with me. Between the perfectly placed 'URGH!' in the middle of Preventive War, and the very unique and 'fiddly' riffing style evident on tracks like Victorious Night, this album is black/thrash metal done very right.“
9. Whipstriker – Troopers Of Mayhem (2013)
“I first heard Whipstriker in 2012 through a few split releases with various bands. The music appealed to me a lot as it was very influenced by crust punk and was very reminiscent of bands like Discharge and Anti-Cimex – a couple of favourites of mine.
“Troopers of Mayhem built on this part of Whipstriker’s sound, but also added a very heavy dose of Venom and upped the speed metal element. The production and songwriting on this album are great, and Whipstriker are one of the best bands around today in this style.“
10. Ketzer – Satan’s Boundaries Unchained
“Compared to most of my other choices on this list which have a prominent metal-punk influence, Ketzer’s sound on this album has a more black metal approach with some “epic” songs for lack of a better word, akin to bands like Desaster and Destroyer 666. There’s some variety within the songs on this album that keep it interesting from start to finish.“
Bonus pick: Sodom – Obsessed by Cruelty/In the Sign of Evil
“Technically this is cheating since it’s two releases, but both Obsessed by Cruelty and the In the Sign of Evil EP are important to me and they were re-released together in the same package so it kind of counts.
“These two releases are very primitive and sloppy… but very evil! They influenced a whole lot of what came after in the extreme metal world.
“Sodom are an incredibly important band for me, and have so many great albums in their discography. My favourite would be Agent Orange, and that album was a massive influence on the music of Hellripper.
“As I mentioned earlier, I originally wrote a few songs for what was going to be the first Hellripper EP a couple years prior to the release of The Manifestation Of Evil and the material was heavily inspired by the sound of 'pure' thrash albums like Agent Orange. I wasn’t happy with the results so a couple of these songs were scrapped and I started again from scratch a while later with emphasis on a more black/thrash approach.“
- Hellripper's new album, The Affair Of The Poisons, is available to preorder (opens in new tab)