Before reading the following review please note that it was written shortly after the album's release and therefore is quite old. The band themselves requested that I did not submit it at the time as they were still negotiating label deals and didn't want too much publicity outside Ireland. Everything below however is still what I feel about this album, and then some! How and why some label didn't pick this up is beyond me... It is in fact one of the best albums I have ever heard.
Ever since I was first introduced to SCALD with the two "Nematoid" demos I have been dying to hear what this band could achieve if given the opportunity to release a full length album. Needless to say those who have read my opinion on the aforementioned demos should know how I feel about SCALD and before you read any further let me assure you that "Headworm" does not disappoint following in the footsteps of its predecessors. Here SCALD have truly released an almighty behemoth of an album that currently, easily, tops my best of 2003 list.
Before I say anything else I think I should comment on the packaging of this album as the band really went full out with this, as the artwork and presentation are fantastic. With a full lyric booklet and even an outer slipcase it is obvious that SCALD have finally decided to opt for the professional approach and let me just say that it pays off. Also included is a fantastic CD-ROM feature which includes lots of goodies from desktop wallpapers to a band history and lots of hidden galleries to keep you entertained. Everything here is top notch from the amazing artwork (provided by the bands' drummer Paul McCarroll at www.unhinged.me.uk) to the amazing music and brilliant production.
As far as the actual music goes much has changed since the brilliance of the "Nematoid" demos as now SCALD have a less spacey atmosphere and a cleaner and more powerful production. The material itself combines some of the best elements from the demos as we have sections of the sludgy brilliance from "Nematoid Specimen Parts I-IV" and some of the aggression from the later demo. Combined with this SCALD have utilised everything you can imagine fitting into their sound and even a little more which you never would have suspected. Sections of clean guitars and even synth sounds in "Hs01", "Hs02" and "Hs03" really stand out as they help the album to flow better and to convey the amazing variation of music contained on "Headworm". I am at a loss as to who to compare this to but I have heard many references to VOIVOD and FRANK ZAPPA which seems more than a little bizarre when thrown into this devastatingly heavy and frankly disturbing work of art.
After the "Hs01" intro comes "Spindle" which I first heard live a few months band and was really impressed. Now I am even more impressed as the powerful production conveys the absolute ton weight of the leaden guitars and rips you right into the frankly unique and disturbing world created by these sounds. Where "Nematoid" was very spacey this is more like a twisted parallel earth which helps to add weight to the believability of the album. Riff wise this song, as with the rest, contains various tempo changes and quite frankly unique riffs. The production here is perfect for the SCALD sound, or rather for the "Headworm" sound, as now the band have chosen a less raw production which loses a little of the aggression but adds direction and clarity to the music.
One of the most memorable things about SCALD's sound is Pete's vocals which are some of the most disturbing screams you will ever here. Not as inhuman as the likes of BURZUM but with that same chilling force behind them yet here it is perhaps even more powerful as it is the feel of humanity driving them that makes it sound so much more painful, disturbing and emotive. The guitar riffs themselves are uniquely SCALD and this is what makes this album so hard to categorize as they can easily fit in with anything like avantgarde sludge doom grind, which I understand, makes no sense, but SCALD sound as they do and they are truly one of the most gifted songwriters in today's metal scene.
There is no point in mentioning highlights on this album as each song in its own right is simply breathtaking. Worth noting is the great remix of the already excellent "Godworm" as a hidden song at the end of the album which was created by Stuart Anstis (ex-CRADLE OF FILTH). The fantastically dynamic "Tap" is definitely one of the more memorable on the album for its use of slow and soft sections, and the way the music contrasts with the vocals is almost overly chilling. There is a complete break in the middle of the song which makes the song appear to split into two segments and the powerful way in which this snaps you back to reality as if the band knew you were starting to drift is, again, a frightening thought.
"Spiracle" is another work of genius. The use of such a long, slow, crushingly heavy intro creates the ultimate foreboding atmosphere. This track plods along and you fear the best is drawing ever closer and your death is close at hand, and I for one don't think I have heard anything this scary in a long time. When it does break in it delays the inevitable onslaught in an ocean of chilling reality as the realisation hits you that they are toying with you before destroying.
Leaden and powerful SCALD march through anything and crush what is in their wake with such unique and dynamic interchanging compositions. Who can compete with this war machine? I dare anyone to listen to this and not feel frightened or moved in some way, because with "Headworm" SCALD have created the ultimate head fuck album. How has this band still managed to remain unsigned? This is the most engaging, original and rewarding album I've heard this year so GO AND BUY THIS NOW!!! (Online March 19, 2004)