Cleveland, OH-based metallic hardcore warriors Ringworm have returned with their soon-to-be-released sixth album, and Relapse debut, Hammer of the Witch. Featuring their classic combination of extreme metal and hardcore, Hammer of the Witch is a retrospective of their two decade-plus career. The album incorporates thrash grooves and old school punk/rock influences, while maintaining relentless, more vicious than ever, aggression throughout.
American Aftermath recently caught up with vocalist James “Human Furnace” Bulloch and guitarist Matt Sorg, who discussed the new album, how the member changes have affected the band over the years, as well as Ringworm’s iconic sound, and more.
How are you feeling about how Hammer of the Witch turned out?
Matt: We’re all happy with the sound of this one. The production is really good. Good guitar tones. I also like this batch of songs that we came up with a lot.
Looking back to when the band started out in the early ’90s, did you ever think you’d still be doing this 20-plus years later?
Human Furnace: No, not really. When the band broke up for a bit (’94 to ’98) it actually forced me to get a real job in some ways. And honestly that was the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to focus and really take tattooing seriously and, consequently, gave me a craft and living. And because of tattooing and establishing myself and having somewhat of a financial backup, I’ve personally been able to continue doing the band to this day. But we just keep playing at this point, because it’s still fun and we are still really good at it.
Being the only original member left, HF, has it been challenging to keep Ringworm going?
HF: At times yes, but what you have to remember is that we’ve only had two major song writers in Ringworm since its inception. People talk about line-up changes, etc. but Matt has been in the band since 2001. So between Frank “3-Gun” [Novinec, former guitarist], Matt Sorg and myself, Ringworm has been able to keep a solid core throughout our whole existence.
How have the member changes had an impact on the band over the years?
HF: Musically, I think it has slightly. Everybody who has been in this band over the years has brought their own thing to it. But, as I said earlier, musically, the boat has always been driven by Matt’s riffs and songs. Currently, John [Comprix, guitarist] has been contributing a few songs and they definitely have his own take on Ringworm. But I think his songs blend quite well with Matt’s, so it’s a very positive thing. If anything is affected by line-up changes it is our ability to tour as often as we like. In the past, and sometimes now, all of us have real life commitments that have to be met. So that often varies, depending on members.
M: I don’t even know how many people I’ve had to teach these songs to at this point. A lot! We’ve had a pretty stable lineup for a couple years now and I’m happy with how we’ve been sounding.
What was the writing and recording process like for Hammer of the Witch?
M: It came together pretty quick. When we signed with Relapse we only had one complete song and two or three song ideas and we busted our asses and wrote this whole record in just a couple months. The recording process was the smoothest we’ve ever had. We didn’t run into any major setbacks like we have in the past. All it takes is one thing to go wrong and the recording could suffer, but this time it went really well.
Did you have any preconceived ideas of what you wanted this record to sound like?
M: We tried to make this one a mix of all of the Ringworm records. We wanted to have some of the thrashy stuff, some of the hardcore- and punk-type stuff, and there’s always been a bit of the early Earache style death/grind stuff in there, so I always like to mix that in there too. A lot of times some or all of those elements are all in the same song.
You’ve been able to incorporate an extreme metal sound, while maintaining a true hardcore sound. How intentional is that balance? Or is it just something that comes naturally during the writing process?
M: Frank was good at that from the start of the band and that’s what I liked about the band back in those early days. I played in a death metal band called Blood of Christ back then that played a lot of shows with Ringworm. HF actually did the artwork for our shirts and our seven-inch back in ’92 and I was a fan of theirs then because of how well they mixed all the different extreme styles together and I’ve tried to keep that going since he left the band. Frank and I were in the band together for years and we wrote a couple records together and because of that the sound never completely changed when he left. It went from Frank writing most everything, to him and I working together, to me taking over most of the writing and it made for a smooth transition. I think it does come naturally to us because we’re all fans of metal and hardcore. I don’t think we really ever think about it that much. It just comes out that way.
What are your musical influences?
M: ’80s thrash (Slayer, Voivod), old school death metal (Autopsy, Entombed), ’70s and ’80s punk and hardcore (Dead Boys, Discharge, AF), ’70s and ’80s hard rock and metal (Motörhead, Kiss, Thin Lizzy). That’s the kind of stuff that we borrow from when writing these songs. We mix it all up together. You might not hear some of these bands in Ringworm, but if I had a guitar in my hand I could show you where we used some of their ideas. Not completely stolen riffs, but certain chords and changes and the feel of it. It’s pretty much how everyone does it. You make something your own from the shit you grew up on.
How do you feel Hammer of the Witch compares to the previous Ringworm releases?
M: Ed Stephens replaced Mike Lare on the bass this time, but that was the only lineup change from [2011 album] Scars to this new one, so maybe those two have a similar vibe? I’m not sure. Scars was the first time that we had two duelling lead guitarists and so I know those two records have that in common. Like I said before, this one is a mix of all the others. At least that was the idea.
HF, you have a distinct vocal style. Having been at it for a while now, how challenging is all of that screaming?
HF: It can take it’s toll, but I’ve been able to adapt, so to speak, and I know what my pipes are capable of these days. I often don’t treat my voice as well as I should, so at times it gets tough.
Hammer of the Witch is comprised of some pretty dark songs. Is there a specific theme behind this record? What inspires your lyrics?
HF: There’s really no specific theme or concept behind the new record. Each song can stand on its own really, as I always sing about personal experience and the way I view things around me. And that never changes from record to record.
Anything else you’d like to add?
HF: Well, we hope everybody goes out there and picks up the new record, it smokes. Then come out and see us play live. That is all.
Hammer of the Witch is out March 18 via Relapse.