The Black Dahlia Murder: Ritual

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The Black Dahlia Murder: Ritual
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The Black Dahlia Murder: Ritual
Melodic Death Metal
Metal Blade Records
June 21st, 2011
Release length: 45:30
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Before I even begin this review, I want to make something perfectly clear. Back when I worked at WSFX, I had a bit of an involving the band’s vocalist stemming from an interview I conducted with him that, for a while, had changed my opinion towards them and their music, as well as my fiancee’s, simply because we were disgusted, infuriated, and to me, I felt betrayed since I respected the group so much. At this point, the events that occured were maybe three, four years ago, and while I still don’t appreciate what he did to get under my skin, I’m well passed the point where it affects my opinion on the music. It had occured around the time of Nocturnal‘s release, and at that time it was one of my favorite albums. Since then it’s been hard to listen to it the same way given what occured. I say this because I have publically claimed I would not review any Black Dahli Murder material until I was over it, and while a bit of rage still lingers, it’s not enough to push itself into my professional unbiased opinion anymore, and I refuse to fault the band’s efforts on this release because of the actions of one member years ago. With that being said, Ritual has been released, and after a large amount of messages requesting it to be reviewed, it’s about time to put those petty issues aside and see if this release makes up for their previous effort, Deflorate, which received plenty of both positive and negative feedback from the press and fans.

One of the biggest hang-ups that many had with Deflorate was the loss of David Lock from the band’s ranks as guitarist. Many felt that his replacement, Ryan Knight, didn’t quite live up to the standard David established in the group, which is understandable as they were some pretty big shoes to fill at the time. Of course, Ritual does have a rather different atmosphere to the music as far as the guitars go that feels similar to Deflorate compoared to the group’s earlier material, though still has the same sort of execution to it. Musically, the atmosphere doesn’t quite feel as intimidating, though there seems to be a bit of a stronger straight forward Death Metal vibe to some of the songs, such as the opening track “A Shrine to Madness”. These come off more from deviating from the slightly technical hook-like guitar work that has accompanied the band since their debut for a more strict traditional Death Metal bridge here and there, and even the presence of some Heavy Metal inspired bridges that bands like Arch Enemy have been noted to use. This all happens to coincide with a vocal performance that seems focused more on gutteral then the rhaspier screams, which happens to be the method prefered on many other songs on the release, but this track really seems to have a stronger fixation on it, and it honestly sounds a lot better then the screams this time around.

While there is that stronger Death Metal presence on tracks like “A Shrine to Madness” and “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood”, which also incorporates breakdowns that kind of work for the song but, especially at the start, does feel a little forced and awkward, as if the band is going for a deeper Slam death Metal presence but lacking the impact to execute it well enough outside a more traditional Lamb of God Metalcore execution, there’s plenty of hooks throughout the album that do latch onto the listener well. Again, “A Shrine to Madness” has some strong hooks at times when it seems to deviate from the signature Melodic Death Metal sound of the band, and at times they seem to cause a bit of an atmospheric gap to the song, as well as to “Moonlight Equilibrium”, as the songs themselves sound dark and sinister, while the hooks feel more like traditional Heavy Metal inspired riffs that offer a glorious, hopeful vibe to the track. None of this really hurts the song, but sometimes it’s enough to wreak havoc on the listener’s perception of what he or she should be experiencing throughout the track. “The Window” is a prime example as the song has a bit of a chaotic vibe to it, and then when the solo hits the atmosphere shifts to a more Heavy Metal glorious and hopeful vibe, which clashes horribly with the frantic intense pace of the song.

Though the issues with the atmosphere may not ruin a specific song, especially since some of the biggest suspects of this like “Conspiring With the Damned” and “The Window” are actually really good songs from start to finish, at the same time it’s constantly happening and it just becomes something you will quickly get tired of. There are tracks that manage to not suffer from this fate, like “Carbonized in Cruciform” which borders on varying atmospheres, especially in the solo and distortion used on it during the track, but overall it still remains a rather punishing track, but nowhere near what “Den of the Picquerist” brings to the table with it’s mixture of Death Metal and Grindcore. This leads to a solid one minute and thirty one seconds of Metal that just assaults the listener, has no glitches in atmosphere, and just feels right for the band in the same sense that “The Window” does capturing the band’s intensity that could be traced to the group’s earlier efforts, ignoring the awkward atmospheres of course. But the fascination on those kind of solos or even atmospheres seem to stem forward a bit more on the track “The Raven”, which presents itself more like a song from, or heavily inspired by, Arch Enemy in recent years, just lacking that staple anthem feel to it. But, of all the songs, the closing track “Blood in the Ink” becomes the most interesting of them all. While there has been a strong straight forward Death Metal approach to many of the songs on this release, this song takes things into a slightly different direction thanks to the keyboards that are used during the track, which add a more gothic, haunting feel to the atmosphere.

There is one last negative thing to touch on with the album, and that lies with the vocals. The guttural performance on the album is fantastic. It has the deep, primal feel to it that works well with every track, and honestly it’s great to see a stronger focus on that approach at times through the album, especially when the band seems to depart from their traditional sound into a more straight forward Death Metal sound. However, the rhaspier screams that appear here leave you on the border of love and hate. Sometimes they have a good deal of energy to them and they sound pretty good and natural to the music, but there are times on plenty of songs throughout the recording, such as on “Moonlight Equilibrium” and “The Grave Robber’s Work”, where they feel forced horribly and even come off painful to the point where it can make you feel itin the back of your throat and turn your stomach. Sure, this is something some Death Metal bands like Autopsy benefit from, but for them it feels intentionally sickening, whereas here it just sounds painful and can be really awkward at moments.

What it all boils down to for this release is some solid The Black Dahlia Murder music from start to finish that ends up violated by awkward guitar hooks and solos to the total atmosphere of most of the tracks on here. The constant clash of atmospheres coupled with rhaspy vocals that are just sickening in a bad way make this effort a little hard to stomach. There’s also some songs scattered about you’re either going to love or just not care too much about, such as “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood” and “Malenchanments of the Necrosphere” being ones that feel a little more like filler though the first has more of an experimental aspect to it, and tracks like “The Window” and “Den of the Picquerist” that do manage to jump out at the listener. Overall, Ritual clearly has many ups and downs, but it’s not a horrible album, and seems to stay in context with their previous effort, though clearly getting lost in what the atmospheres should actually sound like, as well as what the general sound from start to finish of each track should be. No matter how much you want to love this album for it’s adventurous nature, there’s just too many obvious faults that hold the album back.

01. A Shrine to Madness – 4:41
02. Moonlight Equilibrium – 3:30
03. On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood – 4:42
04. Conspiring with the Damned – 3:44
05. The Window – 3:39
06. Carbonized in Cruciform – 4:46
07. Den of the Picquerist – 1:30
08. Malenchanments of the Necrosphere – 4:18
09. The Grave Robber’s Work – 3:37
10. The Raven – 2:58
11. Great Burning Nullifier – 3:25
12. Blood in the Ink – 4:40
Overall Score: 7/10


Digital review copy of this release provided by Metal Blade Records.