Precise execution is important to Vancouver’s Wormwitch, the quality control as high on the band’s new full-length, Heaven That Dwells Within, as on its recent blood, fire, and battle-ritual video for “Disciple of the Serpent Star”.
“We’re big professionalists,” says guitarist Colby Hink, reached on his cellphone in a tour van making its way across New Mexico. “We like to be DIY to a degree, but at the same time we really focus on every aspect of the band, from the visuals to anything music-related. We’re not interested in slacking off in any way.”
That’s more than evident on Heaven That Dwells Within, a punishing and more than worthy follow-up to the trio’s impressive 2017 debut, Strike Mortal Soil. From the hard-charging opener that is “Disciple of the Serpent Star” to the black-midnight-mass closer, “Alone Before the Doors of the Silent House”, the band’s sophomore outing is heavy on razor-sharp sheets of guitar, hard-gallop drums, and vocals that fall somewhere between an enraged death growl and the beginning stages of seventh-circle possession.
Both releases have established Wormwitch as a band to watch on the international metal front, which is to say Hink, singer-bassist Robin Harris, and drummer Izzy Langlais have set their sights higher than conquering the dive bars of the Lower Mainland.
Tellingly, the band didn’t take long to land on the radar of tastemakers outside of the 604 area code. Wormwitch was still primarily focused on writing and making demos when an early single, “Coffin Birth”, caught the attention of Los Angeles–based metal label Prosthetic Records, home to globe-spanning acts ranging from Lamb of God to Dragged Into Sunlight. The company’s A&R head, Steve Joh, reached out.
“We weren’t looking for a label at all, but I guess they heard the single,” Hink says. “It was funny. Steve, who is a really good guy, emailed us out of the blue, but didn’t say in the first 10 emails that he wanted to work with us. He just asked us about the future, and what our plans were.”
The importance of that initial email and the subsequent correspondence becomes huge when you consider the decidedly casual beginnings of Wormwitch. Hink and Harris knew each other from the underground punk-metal scene in Metro Vancouver and formed a hardcore unit called Dead Hand.
“It was kind of a crusty, indie-style hardcore band,” he notes.
As anyone who ever spent a night at the pregentrification Cobalt or wendythirteen-era Funky Winker Beans will testify, most bands that fall under the “crusty” banner seem to spend a couple of years drawing little more than flies at shows, maybe self-releasing a CD that cuts every corner imaginable, and then slinking off to die with no one caring—including relatives and close friends.
When Dead Hand morphed into Wormwitch, Harris and Hink initially focused on putting a punkish edge on black metal—which admittedly doesn’t sound like a battle plan for going double platinum or selling out Rogers Arena on a Monday. Still, it quickly became evident that they were onto something, and the interest from Prosthetic—which promptly asked them to write a full-length album—proved a major motivator.
“We were just a local Vancouver band that wanted to play, write some songs, and play some shows,” Hink says. “We didn’t have big aspirations for things like touring or bringing out records. They made us think that maybe we could do this and take things seriously. That was a really pivotal point.”
Touring North America for Strike Mortal Soil—including opening for underground heavyweights Black Dahlia Murder—helped Wormwitch figure out where it wanted to go for Heaven That Dwells Within. The brute power displayed on the band’s debut is still well-represented on tracks like “Spirit Braid”. But there’s also no shortage of brilliant flourishes, from the Gregorian death chants in “Benighted Blade” to the awe-inspiringly symphonic guitar magic in “Midnight Sun”.
“We didn’t really know what we wanted to sound like when we wrote Strike Mortal Soil,” Hink admits. “We’re metal fans and we have a lot of different influences, so we just sort of threw them all together and put out a record. But after doing that, and then touring with a lot of other bands, we kind of realized what kind of specific stuff we really enjoyed playing the most, and what kind of things that we wanted this band to revolve around. We actually went in the same direction to begin with and then scrapped half the record—the songs were more rock. We’re big fans of melodic, old-school death metal and black metal, and that felt like something that we really wanted to do.”
Like any band interested in moving art forward, Wormwitch puts its own spin on things on Heaven That Dwells Within, which is to say you won’t find songs suggesting that now’s as good a time as any to pledge allegiance to Satan and then burn down the nearest Scandinavian church. On Strike Mortal Soil, Harris, the band’s lyricist, delved into themes that seemed rooted at times in the personal: religion, mortality, and society’s attitude toward both. This time out, he comes on like a major student of fantasy-world giants like J.R.R. Tolkien.
Consider, for example, “A titan’s grip upon her cruel blade ‘Urfang’/Blood runs hot across the frozen waste” from “Iron Woman”. Or “Doomed to roam this wretched sphere/The Midnight Stream would make a fitting grave” from “Dancing in the Ashes”.
Given Harris’s flair for the evocative as a lyricist, there was plenty to work with when the band got together with director Christopher Lennox-Aasen to collaborate on the video for “Disciple of the Serpent Star”. Footage of Wormwitch playing in a riverside clearing is intercut with scenes of three warriors meeting in daylight, and then engaging in a blood-soaked fireside ritual after darkness descends. Done wrong, it all could have ended up looking like an old SCTV skit.
Like most everything Wormwitch does, though, it’s pro from start to finish, which is to say authentic-looking enough to suggest the band does indeed have zero interest in half-assing things.
You’ve been warned. Now be afraid.
Wormwitch plays the SBC on Friday (April 26).