The Black Dahlia Murder // Ritual
Rating: 4.5/5.0 —A revitalization
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: |
Release Dates: SE: 17.06.2011 | EU: 20.06.2011 | US: 06.21.2011

The Black Dahlia Murder - RitualAh, it’s that time again. A new The Black Dahlia Murder record, full of At The Gates riffs and Trevor Strnad’s dynamic and characteristic vocals! Right? RIGHT!?!? Well, let me start with what I said last time in reference to the current trajectory of the band given their longevity and discography:

[W]hen does it become unnecessary to buy new albums from these guys? When do they fade into the [well known] obscurity of a band like Cannibal Corpse or Slayer that produced excellent records, but many people are of the opinion that all you really need to own is a Butchered at Birth or Reign in Blood and South of Heaven and you’ve pretty much heard their entire discography. As of now, I think these guys are on the top of their game. Line-up changes haven’t stopped them, I doubt that they’re going to sit around worrying about stagnation either: but they might want to think about it in the future.

The obvious outrage ensued from both sides. From the one side there was the claim that the band hadn’t stagnated and from the other side was the claim that no one thinks that Cannibal Corpse or Slayer have stagnated. Yeah, well, the first is arguably defensible, the second, less so. In any case, it appears that Ritual is the rebuttal to my critique. A powerful rebuttal. 

By a powerful rebuttal I mean, of course, that Ritual is The Black Dahlia Murder‘s best and most experimental record. The riffing has taken a turn for the more technical at times, in tracks like “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood” there’s almost an Ulcerate kind of vibe. “Conspiring with the Damned” has a great techy riff as a lead in before moving into more traditional TBDM territory with At The Gates-inspired guitar harmonies and thrashy feel. “Malenchantments of the Necrosphere” is another groovy, downtuned tech piece that may be my favorite track on the whole album and that sounds nothing like what the band has done previously, instead placing them more in Abysmal Dawn territory.

The Black Dahlia Murder by Matthew FranklinThe other big change is the use of strings, which shows up on “A Shrine to Madness” as an intro, but on “Blood in the Ink” more broadly and to excellent effect. The use of acoustic strings creates a unique feeling that almost borders on Septic Flesh‘s new material without going to the same lengths. “Carbonized in Cruciform” also uses a piano and acoustics to create a creepy horror movie kind of vibe before ripping your face off with some trem-picked riffing and blast beats. These changes are welcome and they break open a lot of new possibilities for the band.

But the songwriting hasn’t just changed and improved, what stands out here is the guitar work that has been taken to a whole new level. Ritual starts with the tracks “A Shrine to Madness” and “Moonlight Equilibrium,” which don’t exactly break the mold of earlier records, but what stands out to me on both of these tracks are the retarded guitar solos. And by retarded I actually mean fantastic, in case you were wondering. The guitar solos on this whole record are just fucking silly. “Moonlight Equilibrium” has a solo that borders on jazzy at times, where as “A Shrine to Madness” is like 80s thrash-shred done just right. And the solos stand out on almost every track on this record, including my favorites: “Carbonized in Cruciform” again showing off almost jazz-influenced melodic structures; “Malenchantments of the Necrosphere” shows the excellent knowledge of when to shred and when not to; “The Graverobber’s Work” has a legato solo with some silly tapping that just rips your face off; and to top it all off on closing track “Blood in the Ink” the solo segues perfectly into the string laden verse. This record is special just for this because these aren’t just “fill in the gaps” solos, these are genuinely interesting, musically substantive solos that serve a purpose in the song. Fantastic.

The Black Dahlia Murder by Matthew FranklinEven when the record isn’t breaking open new ground for The Black Dahlia Murder, the more traditional tracks are really just some of the best they’ve ever written. “The Window,” for example, has some of the coolest melodic work under the verses. “The Graverobber’s Work” sounds like it could have been on Unhallowed, but it’s just a kick ass song. And by now you get the picture.

So here are some final thoughts. First, congratulations to TBDM for nailing it as hard as they have. There’s nothing bad I can say about this record (except the drum sound, SUUEEECOOOOOF!!! *shakes fist* and the bong hit over the solo on “The Burning Nullifier”. Cheesy.). It’s 45 minutes, so it’s not too long, the cover art is really great (and it reminds me of the artwork for Dragon Age) and they’ve upped the ante for melodic death metal in the new decade, as well as raising the bar for themselves. Second, if you’ve previously written off TBDM for any reason, this is the record to give them another chance on. By breaking the mold, I think they’re going to appeal to people who may have had mixed feelings about them in the past. It’s true that “haters gonna hate,” but I think the move into more techy death metal is going to maybe hook a different crowd. Also, the addition of Ryan Knight may well have been the best thing that ever happened to this band. Total fucking win.

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  • Sean

    I can’t wait to pick this up. Been watching these guys grow from the beginning, and they really deserve all the praise they get.

    I still don’t understand how metal “purists” often bash on these guys, these guys fucking slay. I guess it’s because they have shorts hair and wear hoodies, that’s not cool I guess.

  • Ulises

    nothin but good reviews

  • Nick

    can you elaborate what you mean by the drum sound being bad?

  • INA 666


  • I don’t think I’d agree with your assumption of Cannibal Corpse at all. Seems very generalised. Worth you checking out their discography as most of their records differ quite a bit a long the years. Probably due to constant line up changes. but that’s going off topic.

    As for the TBDM drum sound. I think it’s just a standard DM thing to drum replace. Bass drums have to be clicky and plastic sounding to cut through the rest. But I would like to hear more of a live sound, but not sure if that would work with such tight and technical music.

    I’m enjoying the record so far, it’s a bit more dynamic than Deflorate. That almost seemed like a transitional album because of the guitarist.

    One of my fav extreme metal bands, as they make great music and don’t take themselves too seriously. Their dvd Majesty is brilliant. Best band dvd since the Vulgar Videos.

    • The drum sound is improved over what it used to be and miles ahead of Miasma, for sure. But my issue is that they just don’t sound acoustic, they sound like a drum machine because there aren’t really dynamics on the bass drum. That something is the industry standard, in my opinion, doesn’t make it good. You listen to the new Origin record? Good record, but the drums are hyper replaced. It takes away, in my opinion, what makes a bass drum solid which is the bass and the thud.

      Part of the reason that drums started getting more clicky to cut through is because everything else is getting so compressed and loud. One way to change that is to back off the “industry standards” and to really go for a more acoustic sound. If you check out this track by Erebus from Wisco this is acoustic drums that are just super well recorded, in my opinion. The drums are clicky, but they’re ballsy, too. It is possible to get awesome drums without replacement, but it takes choices about compression and tone and so forth.

      As for Cannibal Corpse, yeah, I get the argument. I can’t think of the last CC record I gave a shit about, though. I don’t feel like they’ve put out anything that I wanted to buy since… Gore Obsessed? A long time ago, anyway. I love their classic material, I just don’t think they’re terribly relevant anymore.

      Anyway, still, I love this record and Deflorate never stuck with me in the same way as Unhallowed and Miasma and Nocturnal did.

      • Deflorate had the same impact with me, or lack of it. But it did have a DVD with it, that made up a little bit for it. Plus the artwork was a bit sketchy on that one.

      • Chris

        Thanks for the tip to look up Erebus! I agree, the drums sound fantastic. Really beefs up their sound. I’m a (new!) Madison local, so it’s great to have another local band to look out for. Cheers.

    • Nyarlathotep

      How does not taking themselves seriously add to them being within your definition of “a good band”?

      • No, I love that they don’t take themselves seriously. I think it’s great, man. Too many bands (think Behemoth) take themselves so fucking seriously. TBDM is just a bunch of dudes who play metal and are fantastic at it, but properly appreciate that they’re in a band. I think it’s great.

        • Nyarlathotep

          We have differing opinions on this matter then. I can respect people who are more invested in the music they create. I’m sure the members of Behemoth comprehend that they are just as much “a bunch of guys just making music”. I don’t see how Behemoth could be construed as silly because they take themselves more seriously.

          • Eric

            You know what…I love Behemoth…but after watching their dvd…jesus…I laughed at them. They take themselves way too seriously. That whole “lets put on makeup and look evil” crap…cmon. Watching the DVD, it doesn’t even look like they’re having fun! I honestly wish metal would drop the whole “dark and brutal” thing. Its kind of a gimmick. Thats one of the reasons I love black dahlia…they don’t take themselves too seriously but still crank out killer tunes.

  • HOT-D

    Good review~
    I accidentally found the band on myspace.It’s really nice to see a sweet score for the latest album, which convinces me to go buying their record. Hellyeah!

  • Metal Junkie 666

    I have to agree this is by far one of their best album… Ritual leaves you with the yearning for more face melting, fist pumping, head banging metal music.. Ritual by far exceeded my expectations.. The Black Dahlia Murder has a lot of potential and i expect to see them further showing their musical mastery in their future albums…

    PS.. Cannibal Corpse has lived its time it’s time for The Black Dahlia Murder to take over….

  • Anonymous

    You really think all CC albums sound the same, not just audibly but song writing wise? That’s where I must lose faith in your reviewing credentials. “Butchered at birth” sounded like  “Bloodthirst”  huh? Sounds to me like you, given your SX-Icono review, prefer (to use an overused Canadian term) “wankery” over just plain well done metal. I’ll take a simple well written song anyday, over a band saying  by proxy to the listener “Watch what I can do!” and doing something cool for 15 seconds followed by 4 mins. of BS and noise. From that note my fav. song ever is SoP “Scorched”, go figure…

    • It was an example. I think that Cannibal Corpse was really great early on and then went downhill. The point is that they’re not exactly blowing listeners out of the water with new ideas and for most people a couple records from the early days are all they need to appreciate the band. The same is definitely true of Slayer.

      • Anonymous

        Your right there. After “Bloodthirst’ and “Divine Intervention” they both jumped the shark. Pretty sad…

  • HA! how can you say that about Cannibal Corpse? have you managed to  listen to Evisceration Plague, Kill, or even The Wretched Spawn? I suppose some people won’t notice a difference, but the speed and technical guitar parts are ridiculous. I’d love to see you play like that, and thats what keeps me interested. their playing continues to improve…yes Gore Obsessed was horrible. I agree that slayers new material isnt very good, except God Hates Us All. That was a little out of their norm, i believe. 

    • I think you’re just missing the point, dude. It was a comparison and it really wasn’t germane to the whole fucking review beyond a band that I think has a fairly repetitive discography. And the point is that Slayer’s new shit sucks and that their old stuff isn’t very dynamic. Not that they’re not good, and not that they’ve never tried to move out of it and develop, but they failed.

  • Zadion

    Listening to this album now. Aside from Moonlight Equilibrium and Malenchanments of the Necrosphere, it’s not really doing anything special for me. Kind of a bummer, cause I was psyched given your review. Also, I have never liked anything from either Cannibal Corpse or Slayer.  Just sayin’.

  • TBDM has appeared on my radar when they released Deflorate. I was quite skeptical about them at first. Thought them a bit too metalcory for me. I am glad I had a listening crisis recently and decided to give their Ritual a spin. It grew on me almost instantly. Such a near-perfect (drums aside ;) blend of speedy thrash, technical MDM sprinkled with black and doom here and there. Oh, and the solos – pure oldschool jam! Yummy! Only after listening I remembered about your review and read it. Totally agree with you. Spot-on!

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