Photo by Matthew Franklin
Detroit-based metallers The Black Dahlia Murder have just released their fifth studio album Ritual, which the band has declared "extreme and challenging" – and that might as well be a label for everything I dig most. Their impressively evil 2009 release Deflorate was a high-charting critical success, so I picked the latest one up hoping this new venture will continue their winning streak. Read on for a mini-review of the album and find out what creatures of chaos burst forth from my speakers...
There's definitely a theme running through these twelve tracks – and the title, promo and cover art should be your first hint of the concept behind it. "What can we do that's the most Black Dahlia Murder thing?" asked frontman Trevor Strnad. "What's going to be the most quintessential Black Dahlia Murder thing we can do? That's kind of what we set our foothold in. And Ritual, it just lends itself to that... it's mysticism and magic and all of that. Everyone has an association with some kind of ritual, so we just thought it was the next logical step."
Through lyrics and musical dynamics, the band does seem to be summoning foul beasts from the dark beyond... even their song titles could easily have been ripped from some lost H.P. Lovecraft manuscript. The orchestral, acoustic and piano elements that infuse many of these tracks – most memorably in the moody opening of "A Shrine to Madness," the colossal "Carbonized in Cruciform" and finale "Blood in the Ink" – lend an even more ominous tone to the soundscape.
Strnad's vocals combine with those of guitarist Brian Eschbach to slash like razors or bludgeon you with animal fury (often at the same time) in tracks like "Moonlight Equilibrium" and "Conspiring with the Damned," and the thundering low riffs of "On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood" will blow you through the wall. Lead guitarist Ryan Knight shines brightest in the effortless fret-dancing of "The Grave Robber's Work," drums come through strongest on cuts like "The Window," and the chilling bass line is almost subsonic on "Den of the Picquerist." My personal favorite is the chaotic "Malenchanments of the Necrosphere," with its jabbing, skull-punching riffs and a sweet, shredding solo.
For a band that's fairly consistent in their sound (in all the right ways), TBDM has succeeded in playing with their formula to create a specific mood, and even if Ritual isn't literally a concept album, it feels totally cohesive and keeps the energy level strong throughout all 45 chilling minutes. I expect fans of extreme and cult-themed metal will be holding celebration rituals of their own when they get a hold of this one.