Sound — 8
I can distinctly remember the first time I listened to The Black Dahlia Murder's "Nocturnal". I couldn't stand the vocals at the time. However, there was a sinister, feral quality in their music melded to such a beautiful sense of melody that I couldn't help but keep on listening. I always thought some of their passages would sound great arranged for an orchestra or even just a piano. A few times around the disc and I was a freshly converted TBDM fan. Then "Deflorate" came out, and I felt like it was the point in the band's career where they stumbled (albeit gracefully) for a few steps. Losing John Kempainen as their lead guitarist threw off the band's vibe for a short amount of time, and "Deflorate" seemed like The Black Dahlia Murder didn't have enough time to figure out how to properly utilize Ryan Knight's talents and inputs as their new guitarist. That problem doesn't exist anymore. "Ritual" takes the bone-crunching riffs from "Nocturnal", the mild technicality of "Deflorate", and Ryan's creative input and marries them perfectly into what may just be The Black Dahlia Murder's most interesting album to date. Regarding having a new guitarist on board, co-founding guitarist Brian Eschbach says "It's been more collaborative than it's been in years... The last two albums I wrote most of the music and this one it's almost a 50-50 effort between me and Knight". I think 50-50 describes it perfectly. You still get Brian's signature melodic death metal riffs (which are as fantastic as ever), and just when you think you may be getting bored of a particular riff, something entirely new happens, which I can only assume comes from Mr. Knight, at least some of the time. That sliding riff in the chorus of "Moonlight Equilibrium". Those quiet ascending leads during the chorus in "The Window". The dizzying riff in the middle of "Carbonized In Cruciform" (and oh God, that solo!). Little things like that are scattered all throughout the album really make "Ritual" a much more refreshing album than Deflorate was, where they seemed to be running low on ideas. And before you try to lump them with other big-time American metal bands and claim "they ran out of ideas a long time ago", at least get halfway through the album. "On Stirring Seas Of Salted Blood" is very unorthodox for a Black Dahlia track. The last minute of the song conjures up images of Vikings sailing in a thunderstorm. Yes, it sounds that manly. And "Ritual"'s seventh track, "Den Of The Picquerist", sounds like what would happen if a metal band tried to write a punk song (but no, it isn't crust punk). There's also a bit of an oddity during the intro of that song, but I'll leave you to discover that for yourself; I wouldn't want to spoil that surprise. The whole album has more classical overtones in the guitar playing than any of TBDM's previous works. And then there's the final track, which makes fantastic use of stringed instruments to convey a sense of urgency to make a perfect closer to the album. It leaves you feeling satisfied, like you've accomplished something by listening to the album. Absolutely phenomenal. Looking back at the past few years in metal, I can't find any better use of stringed instruments (barring Ne Obliviscaris). I mean, this album has almost everything. Almost. Just as "Blood In The Ink" was fading out, it dawned on me that did lack something, something that helped me to fall in love with The Black Dahlia Murder all those years ago. There's no grooves on this album. You know, the part of the song where the drums go into halftime and the guitar plays a riff that you can just groove to? Like the chorus in "Everything Went Black" off of "Nocturnal". Not hearing a single riff like that on the album left a decent sized hole in my opinion of the album, but that hole was quickly filled by all the new tricks that the band had up their sleeves.
Lyrics — 8
Trevor's voice does two things and two things only. It goes really high, and it goes really low. But those two things he does, he does them well. Extremely well. His lows sound simply bestial, and his highs are so unique that they've spawned copycats the world over. Personally, I've always been a fan of his low growls. Which is good for me because it seems like this album features Trevor's lows more often than his highs. Lyrically, Strnad is a wordsmith. One of the earliest impressions that his lyrics left on me were that they were so well written that it didn't matter to me what he was saying. He can take the stereotypical lyrical topics from death metal and, well, make death sound poetic. I mean, sure, I find a lot of that type of stuff laughable, but whenever Trevor does resort to singing about death and stuff at least he takes the time and patience to choose his words carefully.
Overall Impression — 8
For those of you who thought The Black Dahlia Murder stumbled and struggled with their last album, fear not, they have undeniably regained composure for Ne ObliviscarisRitualNe Obliviscaris. And with the added life force of Ryan Knight (who not only shreds his way into your memory, but also wrote plenty of the music on the album), The Black Dahlia Murder stand tall. What we have here is a band that are not only progressing in their nature but also maximizing their potential and capitalizing on their collective talents. The fact that "Ritual" has twelve well-written tracks as opposed to the usual ten on every other album attests to that. Even though it's already their fifth album, it feels like The Black Dahlia Murder are just getting started. And it seems like the only way they can go now is up. Tracks like "Moonlight Equilibrium", "Carbonized In Cruciform", and "Blood In The Ink" are perfect examples of how this band is willing to evolve and push themselves further in terms of their music.