It’s always nice to be surprised—well, that is, unless you are a die-hard, slack-jawed metal/hardcore kid who digs Jamie Jasta, Godsmack, Slipknot and Emmure. In that case you want the same thing over and over and over again: big dumb riffs and tough-guy barked lyrics ad nauseum, with no true regard to musicality. The Black Dahlia Murder, however, are a bit of a conundrum when it comes to Hot Topic-approved metal. Their first full-length album, Unhallowed, was the catchiest batch of perfectly produced and delivered death-meets-black metal since, well, the last good Carcass album
Nothing fancy, just the typical death-metal lyrics, melodic riffs played at lightning speed and dueling high- and low-pitched vocals. But with each release since Unhallowed, the band has strayed from the simple perfection of their freshman release. Think Weezer but with no Pinkerton. It wasn’t so much that they were experimenting as that they lost members, dabbled with a more mainstream guitar sound and got lazy.
But Ritual recaptures the formula that made Unhallowed so hard to deny, while adding strings and more complex songwriting. This is the kind of metal album every kid’s mom should hate and every kid should own; that goes for us adults too. No, there is no jazz influence or deeply authentic black metal connection some metal snobs need to enjoy a band.
The album does not feature Blaarg Bjorn from Shizen Slasher, the (fictional) guy who was imprisoned for church burnings, but it does deliver the sheer joy and defiance that any good metal album should deliver, and it does it over and over and over again. “A Shrine to Madness” opens the album with the warm, haunting strings of a cello; it lingers until hell creeps up behind it all dressed in blast beats and a glorious riff that sounds like it is trumpeting the arrival of the devil himself. Cheesy? Yes! Awesome? Fuck, yeah!
Album closer “Blood in the Ink” may be the best thing in the band’s catalog. A touch of a “Run to the Hills” Iron Maiden vibe, a dash of Opeth—strings caressing the chorus. It stays with you like a good movie score. Yes, it is metal and it is catchy. Bubble-gum death metal? I think so.