Review Summary: The Black Dahlia Murder pulls of the theme to "Ritual" quite well; however the sound is pretty much the same as it was on the previous two records. It is a pretty consistent and solid release from the band.
The Black Dahlia Murder is a band that is well known in the circles of today's extreme metal. It has now been around 8 years since their first record "Unhallowed" was released and they are still going strong and hard despite several band members coming and going. Even if they've certainly managed to keep their core sound intact during these years, their sound has also expanded. That is of course due to the band evolving as professional musicians but also has a bit to do with some of the band members changing.
For example, after Shannon Lucas joined in as the new drummer, Black Dahlia released "Nocturnal" which was a much more technical album. Also, when Ryan Knight filled John Kempainen's place as the guitarist the band's sound changed quite a bit with "Deflorate" not giving off so much of the melodic death metal vibe they previously had.
This time around the line-up has stayed intact since the previous album and The Black Dahlia Murder presents you with the 45 minutes long beast titled "Ritual". What's different about this new record is that it has a running theme that includes stuff such as evil cults, werewolves and sacrifices that has kind of a "Lovecraftian" feeling to it all. This they show right of the bat as the title track "A Shrine to Madness" starts out quite symphonic with some violins. The album has small touches like that scattered around the album, for example the bells ringing at the end of "A Grave Robber's Work" or the acoustic intro to "Carbonized in Cruciform". All of this is of course is complemented with Trevor Strnad's excellent "poetic" lyrics which he has done a great job of writing ever since the start of the band.
It feels like the band was trying to preserve the sound "Nocturnal" had, while with "Deflorate" being much more of a Death Metal affair with a lot of focus on heaviness, this time there's a more melodic feeling to it. However with the band still keeping that fast and heavy feel they've had as of late.
They did a solid job with mixing it up a bit by having more melodic and catchy tracks like "Moonlight Equilibrium" as well as having much more heavy old school death metal tracks like "On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood" (which is an awesome name for a track by the way).
It seems like Brian has worked a bit on the riffs as well on this album, since you can hear some interesting stuff done here that wasn't present too much on the previous albums. He keeps it pretty solid all the way throughout the album and there are a lot sweet and catchy guitar riffs that can be found in many tracks, even if it will feel like you've heard some of it before.
The guitar solos on this album is definitely something that should be mentioned, Ryan Knight is an amazing guitar player and that really shines through in his solos (listen to "A Grave Robber's Work" and "Carbonized in Cruciform").
Trevor's vocals, if you're not yet familiar with them have quite a signature sound, his lows are very solid but nothing out of the ordinary while his highs are really what sets him apart from any other death metal vocalists. During "Unhallowed" and "Miasma" he was still kind of finding his sound, but it really came through during "Nocturnal" and he has been keeping it that way ever since. That hasn't changed with "Ritual", the only real difference is that his brutal low growls have been used much more on here as they also were during "Deflorate".
The production on this album is very solid, it has a very typical sound of many modern death metal bands, meaning triggered drums as well as very "clean" distortion on the guitars. If you're not a fan of the "overproduced" sound, you probably won't like the sound of this album.
Fans of The Black Dahlia Murder will find this to be a very solid and consistent release with their previous work. They still have that fast and technical sound mixed with catchy and melodic riffs which they have kept since "Nocturnal". The band tries to change things up a bit by adding a theme to the album as well as some orchestral touches. However the focus on that is fairly minimal and the guys work on what they feel is most important, which is the metal itself and here the metal is definitely solid.
For new listeners I would rather recommend checking out previous albums such as "Miasma" or "Nocturnal" which in my opinion are their best releases thus far.