The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual Review

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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