Witch Hunt by HornetsRelease date: May 19, 2017
Label: Solid Choice Industries
It may have taken Belfast based punk metallers Hornets a long time to get round to releasing their debut album, Witch Hunt, but the wait has been worthwhile. The anticipation was sizeable after two sterling elongated players (Truth and No Faith) and a change in prominent member, vocalist James McAuley replaced by Rich Stuart. I think it’s also fair to say that Hornets’ sound has been honed into something even more devastating, if they weren’t already blazing a trail of sonic destruction with those previous releases. Clocking only 34 minutes across 14 tracks, the longest song will only take up just under four minutes of your time.
Hornets have been one of Belfast’s best kept secrets for a good few years, playing multiple gigs supporting other acts of a similar weight in terms of metallic heft. This album was recorded in Rocky O’Reilly’s Start Together studio, absolutely the place to go in Northern Ireland if you want a record to sound fucking amazing, it would appear. I read a post Rocky put up about the recording of Witch Hunt, how he got drummer Richard McAuley to come in, do some drumming, then drum some more until he cried. It’s worth noting there are no percussive overdubs or samples on this album. Staggering.
Ripping into a frantic thrash groove, ‘The Long Pig’ features some itchy riffs, superfast drums and a mighty bass rumble. The track hurtles along at high speed with the force of a hurricane, seemingly on the verge of falling apart, but managing to keep it together over its brief two minutes. Undoubtedly best listened to with strobe lighting if you can handle it. ‘Jon Kabat Zinn Vs Eckhart Tolle’ follows, relentless again with speed and intensity, the groove is locked down and tight as fuck. Hornets let you know it’s not all about the thrash by way of some slower paced passages. Time for breath.
Album title track ‘Witch Hunt’ refuses to let up the pace, tearing into a ferocious groove like a manic dog shaking a tiny animal. Think along the lines of a dirtier version of Deafheaven, the production is absolutely crushingly huge. With ‘Sink Swim’, finally a track comes along that leaves a little room for manoeuvre, the fleeting moments of a slower pace serve to let vocalist Rich Stuart get a breath. ‘One Of Us’ features a bouncy mid-section where the tempo slows down and bassist Craig McCloskey and drum-beast Richard McAuley lock into a super tight groove. As previously mentioned, producer Rocky does a fantastic job of getting a perfect bass sound throughout that I really admire.
On ‘Hollow Bones’, the drums are at such a blistering pace it sounds like a lung bursting chase for the rest of the band to keep up! ‘Threads’ is a very apt description for the state of everyone’s sinews after this insane motherpuncher of a track. The bass lines are as deep as the ocean. McAuley shows it’s not all about speed with some intricate drum patterns on ‘Harvest’. It’s as if he’s trying to trick guitarist Andy Shields, but he ably matches the twisted rhythms with some mathy guitar riffage. While the overall sound of the album is serious and malevolent, ‘Trixie’ does have a playful and chunky riff, the track has undercurrents of fun and would no doubt be a highlight of a live set, if played.
Some tracks such as ‘Hikikomori’ and ‘Plainfield’ try something different, cramming in so much in their short timeframes, but these ears struggle a little to completely comprehend the contents. Similarly, ‘Rivals’ throws up a hefty bouncy riff that isn’t a head down thrasher, offering much in the way of dynamics. I’d like to have heard a little more of that throughout the album. Closing track ‘Horro Vacui’ is a slow dirge with sludgy drawn out riffs. Definitely conveying something horrific, the track is bloody and darkly cinematic, but lacks structure and comes across as a jam that could do with a little direction, I found it an odd end to the album.
I have to admire Hornets and the approach they take to what they do. The band are clearly prepared to work hard and have made tremendous progress, hopefully Witch Hunt gets the attention it deserves and Hornets get to see more of the world. The band chose to release the album via a new local enterprise, Solid Choice Industries, ably looked after by long-time Northern Irish (great) music exponents, Hornby and Pete Jez. I should also probably mention the album’s artwork, drawn by vocalist Rich Stuart. Undoubtedly best viewed on the vinyl edition, it is truly remarkable and adds to the quality of this release. Yet again, Hornets come at you with an intense, dirty, downright heavy collection of blistering punk rockin’ scuzzy metal. (Head) Cracking stuff.