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Though I can't speak highly of the Finns' proclivity towards posturing their genre with every new album title (this kind of thing stopped being funny a long time ago), it's not necessarily a false advertisement in terms of the sound Deathchain has been constantly cultivating and evolving. Or in the case of Ritual Death Metal, 'devolving', since they've once again mutated to explore another little corner of the death spectrum. Whereas the last album, a rather unexpectedly fantastic outing titled Death Gods, channeled a lot of bursting inspiration from veterans like Morbid Angel or Krisiun, this album definitely veers towards the old school trends of late, with some more primal songwriting aesthetics that are, like the title warns, meant to evoke a ritualistic, atmospheric vibe.
Not that it's a complete 180 degree turn from Death Gods, because the band's propensity for intense blast beats and other techniques is fully intact with tracks like "Seven Asakku Shadows" or "King Pazuzu". In fact, I'd hazard that the Finns are also experimenting with a blackened death hybrid quite often here, in the ways that the tremolo picked melodies play out during faster passages (again, "King Pazuzu"), but the best of the material on Ritual Death Metal is the more spacious, murky and evil paced fare like "Stele of the Vultures", which constructs a brooding mass of dense rhythm guitar while tweaked, malicious melodies wail off like fleeting specters from advancing daylight. The latter half of the record is loaded with atmospheric moments, from the cleaner guitars of "Tiamat's Eyes of Death" to the psychedelic haze that paves the road for "Like Worms Upon the Lands". The guitar tone is corpulent and gives the record a sensation of churning vats of stripped flesh, and there's a very natural inclination towards bass-heavy tones.
Unfortunately, where the last disc was so brimming with infernal energy and incendiary riffs that surprisingly grabbed for my attention (which was unusual, since many of their older death/thrash works did little to incite me), I felt that a lot of the rhythm guitar progressions throughout Ritual Death Metal were of the 'been there and done that variety'. Without the eerie, occasional wisps of melody that erupt, and the sheer intensity of the drumming, I'd probably have nodded off several times through the record. On a tonal level, there is enough variation and atmosphere to hold the attention, but if you break down the riff patterns they are usually pretty standard stuff. Also, I just didn't get into the vocals here. Not a whole lot different than on Death Gods, but they're hardly unique or sinister enough sounding to make up for a dearth of instrument in the music, and the more brooding cleans used during bridges or breakdowns (as in "Our Lady Under the Earth") aren't all that thrilling; nor are the blacker, rasped snarls, or Antti Bowman's additional growls, which are far less charming than they seemed in Demilich or Winterwolf.
I don't mean to give the impression that this is really a 'bad' album, because I think it's sure to thrill a cross section of nostalgic death metal fan and black/death 'banger; but most of the riffing felt superfluous or uninteresting, so I was left instead to focus on the layers of miasma and brutality of the album as a whole, and not many individual tunes stood out. Deathchain knows its influences, whether they be the Swedish and Finnish death pioneers of antiquity, or their Floridian counterparts, and you could see this effort as somewhat of a halfway mark between Morbid Angel and earlier Demigod (or Convulse), but with a roster like this one, with such enormous cumulative experience from many underground faves, I think I just expected some more of the content to stick with me after a few cycles through. There's a lot of brutal, black ichor coursing through the heart of this thing, but my own pulse never quickened as a result of hearing it.