The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual (2011)

Posted: June 9, 2011 in Music

It’s no secret I absolutely love The Black Dahlia Murder. Ask my wife, my kids, my colleagues, my friends, my unsuspecting neighbors. All have been subjected to the awesomeness of these Michigan Death Metallers at one point or another – whether they wanted to be or not. While the music itself has always been awe inspiring, my affection for these guys is based not only with their ability to perform great metal, but also by the fact that with all their skill and fame – these are the most regular, down to earth guys in metal today.

They crave Taco Bell. They scratch their asses at levels beyond normalcy. They drink Jagermeister straight from the bottle – at nine in the morning. They smoke pot – and when they have none, smoke whatever they can find that slightly resembles pot. They find day-old 7-11 hotdogs and donuts shortly thereafter. They have short hair (mostly). They are fat (according to congregate calculations). They dance around with their dicks out. They are everyday fuck-offs that just happen to have a record deal. They are the American dream.

Yet somehow they managed to unseat the mighty Lamb of God as the most important metal band going these days. An awfully heavy cross to bear, for sure, but they brought it on themselves.

When you walk through the front door of the heavy metal scene with the a release like 2003’s Unhallowed, you have to be prepared for the reaction of fans and critics alike – both of which embraced the band and their sound. With the next release – 2005’s Miasma – the band was already far beyond all expectations in popularity and credibility, yet still outdid their rookie release with a tighter, more brutal sound, and collecting fans faster than they could imagine. A just reward for a crew of musicians that were metal fans first, and a metal band second.

What has happened since has defied both logic and metal tradition. This band of heshers have actually been owning the metal scene since day one and have continued to do so for the last eight smoke-filled, alcohol induced years. I’m pretty sure they were all card-carrying members of the Cannibal Corpse fan club years ago, yet stumbled inexplicably – with merit – into the group of elite metal bands of our time.

But enough trouser-sharking these guys. The issue at hand right now is their 2011 release Ritual. An album that, while highly anticipated, was bound to fail. After all, the last two albums (2007’s Nocturnal and 2009’s Deflorate) were so highly regarded by fans and media alike, that it was time for that crack in the sidewalk to finally trip up the band a bit. Right?

Wrong.

Fanboy-ism aside, The Black Dahlia Murder have delivered not only their best work to date, but quite possibly the best extreme death metal album the genre has ever seen. But the question we are asking ourselves is “How?” After all, the band doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously (based on documentary footage in the Majesty DVD), yet continues to push the boundaries of metal into realms that – quite honestly – no one can keep up with. Maybe all bands should lose seven members in 8 years (well, maybe not), but with the incessant shuffling of chess pieces along the way, The Black Dahlia Murder are finally in a position to call “checkmate” to all their competition.

And the “king” that is Ritual is firmly postioned to be the last piece standing.

Without walking you through the track-by-track details that have become somewhat famous of late on this blog, I’ll state something quite poignant and simple here. So definitive that you are allowed to stop reading after the next sentence. This album defies greatness.

What The Black Dahlia Murder have done with Ritual is – again – redefined excellence in melodic death metal. What was great before is now greater. What was majestic in previous efforts is now epic. But what makes it most grand is that I have a strange feeling these guys aren’t fucking around anymore.

Ritual is dark(er), hard(er), and far more serious(er) than anything the band has done before. On the surface, it’s typical Black Dahlia Murder fare – but after multiple listens, it’s quite obvious that Trevor Strnad and company have decidedly changed the game once again. Gone are the light-hearted antics and bowling-alley videos, replaced now by a much more intent sound that grabs the throat and doesn’t let loose. This record means serious fucking business.

The album is a relentless assault on the senses, attacking with wave after wave of death metal excellence. It’s the heaviest the band has ever been, and – while maintaining the BDM sound – reaches new depths of blackness and perfection along the way. The musical growth of all members has reached an apex. I give a lot of the credit to the band’s most-recent newcomer – guitarist Ryan Knight (formerly of Arsis) – who has added an element of sheer energy to the band, as well as giving fresh input to the writing aspect.

Co-founder/guitarist Brian Eschbach described it best, stating “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). He lifted what we were doing on the last album so much from what we’ve done before, his different techniques and stylings that he knows how to wield. It’s really exciting for us to have that be part of the band now.” Strnad adds that Knight “is an educated musician, and he’s brought that kind of aspect into the band, too. We came to him having higher expectations, and he’s exceeded all of those.”

But it wasn’t just Knight that made this album the ferocious beast it is. Strnad’s vocals feel more authentic than ever before. The death growls are demon-like, while his pitched screams pierce the air with the precision of a samurai sword. Drummer Shannon Lucas continues to impress with his all-out barrage of blast beats and double bass, and bassist Ryan Williams – normally the quiet man in the mix – stands out on numerous tracks, most heavily on “Den of the Picquerist.”

As far as the guitar work, I dare you to find a better combo in the death metal scene than Eschbach and Knight. Their work here is nothing short of amazing. The technicality is unbelievable, and the sheer proficiency never misses a chord. The result is fretwork that adds all the melodic elements this album needs, while tearing your face off in the process. Whether it’s an intro, a bridge, or a kick-ass solo, the guitars on Ritual are beyond impeccable.

While no track on this album is any better or worse (they are all absolute gems), the closing track “Blood In The Ink” deserves a special mention. In the track, the band has incorporated an element unused in past releases – classical strings. It’s not a ballad or gorgeous wall of sound – it’s still brutal as fuck – but it gives the listener just one more reason to appreciate the growth of the band.

“That’s something Brian’s always wanted to do,” Strnad notes. “He’s always appreciated classical music and the marriage of classic and metal when they come together. For him to be able to do anything he wants like that, I think it’s gonna resonate with people.”

And resonate it does. It’s becoming obvious that these guys can pull off pretty much anything they attempt – and Ritual is a proud example of that. If you are a metal fan, regardless of genre, you need to check this album out. It may very well be the best metal album ever made – or at least until The Black Dahlia Murder kicks our ass again in two years.

11/10

Tracklist:
01. A Shrine to Madness
02. Moonlight Equilibrium
03. On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood
04. Conspiring With the Damned
05. The Window
06. Carbonized in Cruciform
07. Den of the Picquerist
08. Malenchanments of the Necrosphere
09. The Grave Robber’s Work
10. The Raven
11. Great Burning Nullifier
12. Blood in the Ink

http://www.amazon.com/Ritual-Black-Dahlia-Murder/dp/B004XD04IS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1307560837&sr=8-1

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