I've been called an apologist for The Black Dahlia Murder before. And that's okay, I guess. Because in this context, apologist is used as a synonym for having a functioning cerebral cortex between two healthy ears. You heard me, assholes.
For a variety of reasons that could be expounded on over several screen scrolls, these strapping (if not trolling) young men have had a great deal of ire directed their way over the course of their career. And let it be said here for the umpteenth time by a respectable member of society; there's no reason for the hate. While it's true that the Detroit quintet can be pinpointed as one of several forefathers to the deathcore idiocy that has permeated local Hot Topic stores nationwide, it's completely absurd to suggest that they should bear the blame for fostering something that truly sounds next to nothing like them. The frustration and disdain seen all over is the elitist fan-boy equivalent of shooting the messenger. And what makes this all the more irritating is that TBDM have proven once again on Ritual, and this time more convincingly than ever, that they simply belong in the discussion as one of the most positively influential groups in modern heavy metal.
Click through the jump for the rest of the review.
Click through the jump for the rest of the review.
Ritual succeeds 2009's Deflorate, which featured ex-Arsis axeman Ryan Knight in his first recorded stint with the band, and it further develops the more progressive and subtle nuances that were teased on the previous release. Deflorate, as is expected with TBDM, was polarizing, as it showed hints of the group progressing, but it never truly delivered on the swelling progressive element buried inside their sound. Despite the cries of the village idiots, Deflorate was exactly what you'd expect from a seasoned TBDM on their 4th effort; a solid, fast record with excellent musicianship all around. Unfortunately, this is just about the exact thing that can be said for every previous release. Enter Ritual; every fan and hater alike knew it was finally time for TBDM to break out of the comfort of their shell. And although the same TBDM is there, broken out of their shell they have. Oh... did you think you were getting off easy, dickbag? There are no recycled deathcore elements to be seen here. Sure, it's still very much a Black Dahlia album, but Ritual evokes a combination of Heartrtwork era Carcass, Jester Race period In Flames, and pre-Slaughter of the Soul At The Gates much more than any sound the seemingly million local slam acts that taint shows everywhere could ever hope of emitting.
Just like it's predecessors, Ritual is rife with Motor City-made riffs that could stand next a vintage GTO and compete. It's the elements in between that impress. Knight's solos, while perhaps not as technically proficient as former lead John Kampainen's, stand out while also complimenting the speed and heaviness of the riffage around them. Most noteworthy is an underlying southern element to Knight's approach, which has in turn caused a slightly more melodic TBDM than before, most noticeable on tracks "Moonlight Equilibrium" and "The Raven." Not to pass over the more tenured members, drummer Shannon Lucas, bassist Bart Williams and founding member Brian Eschbach again build off their previous effort. Lucas especially stands out on Ritual; the most peculiar track on the record, "Den of the Picquerist", is made by Lucas' draw out solo that introduces the track, and is easily one of the more interesting tracks crafted by TBDM largely because of this.
It's doubtless that the addition of Knight has helped TBDM further carve quite the niche for themselves musically speaking, but it’s vocalist Trevor Strnad who will always serve as the band’s calling card. And while Strnad undoubtedly has one of the most distinctive screeches in modern heavy music, a sizable knock on him throughout TBDM’s tenure (hey again, guys!) has been his one-dimensional approach to vocals. This pretty misleading, as Strnad really has a two-dimensional approach; high and low. It’s just that this diametric technique had become rather predictable and even tired following the drop of 2009’s Deflorate, prompting many to wonder if he’d ever try to mix it up. And while these criticisms certainly weren’t unfounded, Strnad had proven at least five times over that his approach simply worked for the band’s sound; the generic “if it’s broken, why fix it?” adage applies here quite well. Ritual provides a pretty formidable counter to both these issues. It doesn’t exactly see Strnad burst out of the box with operatic Townsendian bellows to silence all critics, but it’s simply the most outstanding recorded performance of his career, and it really isn’t even close. Ritual exhibits Strnad’s apex, showcasing a dude who has conclusively mastered his craft. Effortlessly transitioning between his patent sinister shrieks and his lower scale howls while mixing spoonfuls of tones and styles heretofore unexplored, Strnad excels throughout, particularly on “Malenchantments of the Necrosphere," opener "A Shrine to Madness," and “Great Burning Nulifier.” Strnad’s style will likely never change at this point, and if he continues to produce efforts like the one found on Ritual, you can count on no hands the reasons why he should try to adjust.
Ritual finally proves that not only are The Black Dahlia Murder champions of their craft, but that they're capable of the progression that many had hoped for since 2003's Unhallowed. Ritual may not be understood as the groups best record by all, but at the very least it's a resounding step in the right direction. And if they continue to pump out records that continue to prove their mettle, maybe the the haters will take the advice found in the closing moments of the record on "Blood In The Ink"; "...suicide is the only way out."
... okay, I'm not that big of a dick. However... recognize, fools. The Black Dahlia Murder are here to stay, and with Ritual they've proven that they're only going to get better and more experimental. Enjoy, or hate, the ride.