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With this year’s Summer Slaughter Tour coming up quickly, The Black Dahlia Murder could not have picked a better time to release their fifth full-length album, Ritual. Now with the same line-up as 2009’s solo-happy Deflorate and their third album being handled by metal mastermind Jason Suecof, how would this band deliver the goods? In short, The Black Dahlia Murder have made a slow but gradual convert out of me. Ritual is far heavier than their previous effort, as well as much more consistent, both vocally and in terms of general songwriting. And while it is by far the longest album from The Black Dahlia Murder to date, it seems to fly by quicker than any of their previous four albums.

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While this album isn’t a radical departure from their past two albums by any means, it still tries enough new things out to simultaneously keep things fresh while still maintaining the qualities that made them such a success in the first place. Ritual still offers a ridiculous amount of influence from At the Gates' Slaughter of the Soul and Carcass' Heartwork throughout its forty-five minute run time, but also manages to mix things up enough to please a wider audience of extreme metal fans. Things can get fairly fucking brutal at times, especially in the chuggier “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood”. This track shows the band wearing their Morbid Angel influences on their sleeve (though certainly not Illud Divinum Insanus). “Den of the Picquerist” shows the band at their most sadistic and menacing, both musically and lyrically.  The album’s closer, “Blood in the Ink”, also features guest string musicians to add to the album’s more symphonic and epic mood. And perhaps the album’s most ambitious track, “Carbonized in Cruciform”, enters with Ryan Knight’s haunting acoustic guitar melodies paired with some equally evil black metal-inspired guitar leads. Tracks like these are the reason why Ritual succeeds as a complete listen; there’s much more diversity here than there ever has been on a Black Dahlia record.

This album offers some bits and pieces of experimentation, but at its core the album is still heavily rooted in the catchiness of Brian Eschbach’s frequently harmonized riffs. While “Moonlight Equilibrium” keeps things rooted in a fairly standard structure, it might also be the highlight of the album. I challenge any listener to not get the guitar leads in the chorus stuck in their head. Drummer Shannon Lucas has been dominating the kit since 2007’s Nocturnal and certainly continues to do so here. Listeners can expect the same blast-beat filled performance that The Black Dahlia Murder has prided themselves on for years. Bassist Ryan “Bart” Williams has always seemed to be cut out of the mix on previous recordings. While you still won’t hear Bart most of the time, a few bass lines will stick out and add some nice textures to tracks like “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood” and the circle-pit inspiring intro to “Den of the Piquerist”.

Trevor Strnad’s vocals have been steadily improving since the band’s inception, and he simply has never sounded better here. While I was previously not fond of his higher register of screams, they’ve gotten better on this album, while retaining the beastly (and surprisingly clear) mid-range growl he’s perfected over the years. Trevor has taken me years to accept, but I’d like to throw in my hat as yet another fan at this point. Lead guitarist Ryan Knight has been turning heads with his dizzying solo work, and offers some of his shreddiest work to date. While Ritual probably does have a few too many solos for its own good, it’s frequently enjoyable and shows Knight at the top of his game. Fans of his work on Arsis’ We Are the Nightmare will certainly get a huge kick out of “The Window”, both riff and solo-wise.

I’ll be honest; I was pretty ambivalent towards Ritual. The Black Dahlia Murder have slowly but surely improving over the years, and for the first time I can personally say I thoroughly enjoy an album  of theirs all the way through. This album offers many familiar elements of the band’s sound, while still pushing through enough new ideas to separate it from its four predecessors. This album comes highly recommended to established fans of the band, as well as to fans of melodic death metal in general. Should you find yourself not a fan of the band in the past, certainly give this one a try. It might make you reconsider your opinions on the band. Hell, it did that to me.

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Rating: 8/10

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