The Black Dahlia Murder - Ritual
Record Label: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: June 21, 2011
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." - so the axiom goes. For a good portion of their career, melodic death metal act The Black Dahlia Murder have favored the "don't fix it" route, delivering a brand of metal that while often enjoyable, suffered from a lingering feeling of sameness, most evident on their sophomore release Miasma. This changed when the band brought in ex-Arsis guitarist Ryan Knight, whose technical prowess and ear for melody helped the band to begin steering in a different direction with 2009's Deflorate. While the album was a solid release and saw glimmers of a refreshed enthusiasm, it failed to truly reinvigorate the band's sound and left many fans feeling underwhelmed. This has all changed with the release of Ritual, an album bursting with a newfound sense of direction and scope. This isn't to say that the band has abandoned what it is that got them here in the first place, though, as at heart this is still the same Black Dahlia Murder fans know and love. They're just doing things better than they ever have before.
Opening track "A Shrine to Madness" is a pulverizing blast of death metal, showcasing the band's technical abilities well, despite some rather cornball lyrics. A demonic ode to the festivities of Halloween, it's a bit difficult to take seriously on lyrics alone, as the lines often walk the proverbial "fine line between clever and stupid." However, once band's penchant for often cheesey lyrical moments is taken into consideration, it's easier to overlook this minor blemish on an otherwise notable opener. The second track "Moonlight Equilibrium" takes a more serious approach, spinning a demented werewolf tale that is handled on a less campier tone than the previous track. Things continue to improve with the following three tracks, culminating in "The Window", a grotesque and unsettling account of a John Wayne Gacy-esque character set to a backdrop of crunching metal musicianship that boasts the band's musicianship at its' finest. And while such stomach-turning lines as those found in this song might put off certain listeners, it emboldens the band's goal of creating depraved tales of evil and gore, carrying the torch of influential forebears such as Cannibal Corpse and Slayer. Ryan Knight's influence is staunchly evident on this track as well, in the dizzying opening riffs as well as the brief yet acrobatic guitar solo.
Though this album brings about a fresh new enthusiasm, it is not without its faults. The middle portion of the album feels somewhat weak compared to the tracks that it's sandwiched between. "Den of the Picquerist" is a somewhat aimless track that shows promise with a terrific opening bass line before devolving into a forgettable track that flies by so fast that it's almost forgotten entirely by the time the next song has finished. Lyrically the album is often hit or miss. Sometimes the ghoulish accounts of all things dark and demented can come across as contrived and amateurish while at others it hits the mark completely. This kind of inconsistency, while to be expected with this sort of music, is nonetheless a bit frustrating. Thankfully the album is more hit than miss in this department and all things considered, the musicianship is the true star here. So any lyrical missteps are easier to forgive when the music they're set to is this enjoyable.
Overall Ritual is a welcome addition to The Black Dahlia Murder's catalog, bringing a fresh, enthusiastic approach to the table, proving that they're anything but tired. It may even win over some new fans along the way. Perhaps their most accessible record to date, it's also their most accomplished. Their most focused. Sounding anything but phoned in, Ritual is the album which with the band has set their own standard. Whether or not they can live up to it (or transcend it, even) on future releases remains to be seen but for now, fans and newcomers alike are sure to be pleased with what is, for all intents and purposes, the band's strongest effort yet.
Good review, you described this album perfectly. It's not the greatest album ever, but once you start listening you can't stop until it's over.
thanks! definitely agree. it's becoming one of my top favorite metal albums this year, even if there's still a song or two that I tend to skip over.
and I didn't mention it in the review, but I feel like Deflorate gets more hate than it deserves. I've always thought it was a really solid album with some of their best riffs/guitar work. "Black Valor" and "Necropolis" are mint.