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Like many other listeners, my initial reaction to Testament's 'dumbing down' was one of shock and confusion, concerns that the band was attempting to ape the enormous success Metallica had with their own simplified, streamlined 1991 record The Black Album. No way man, another of my favorite West Coast thrash bands sold itself down the river! Sure, there were a few catchy tracks from the onset of exposure to this record, like the massive opener "Electric Crown" or the strangely uplifting "Agony", but for whatever reason, I found that at the time, this just wasn't what I was interested in hearing. I had been on a death metal binge for a few years, and black metal as we know it was just starting to become available (through imports), not to mention the other sounds like grunge, rap and 'alternative' which peaked at the dawn of the 90s.
But I was wrong, and I've spent the past 20 years repenting just HOW wrong, because over time, I've not only grown to love this beast, but it's become my absolute favorite of their full-lengths to date. An opinion, that, to the thrash purist, must be like attempting to practice witchcraft at a Puritan prayer club; but I don't spend hours listening and typing these reviews out to lie, people. Even if you've never trusted my word on anything else, or burn wicker statues of me on your front lawn, I'd implore detractors of this record to set the proper mood, and give The Ritual another chance, because it's one of the truly underrated works of those parched early 90s, where quality metal was a rarity more than a commodity. Yeah, it existed if you knew where to find it, but the likelihood of picking up even a major band's new record and coming out satisfied were pretty slim. It's important to note that, unlike Metallica, who had a decade of huge sales within the diminished creative returns of their 'hard rock' years, this would prove a one-off for Testament, the last of the classic lineup's collaborations, before initiating the train depot arrival/departure of temporary members and pursuing a more modern, aggressive direction through Low and the ill-met Demonic. So if you seek this more atmospheric, 'heavy metal' incarnation of Testament, there is but one place to turn...
Thankfully, that place is still open and ready for your business. This album never grows old, a result of the simple and focused songwriting, immortal chorus melodies and raucous, airy guitar tone. Although one could still discern a 'thrash' element to the riffing, thanks to the heavy use of palm mutes, The Ritual has more in line with a mainstream heavy metal sound. Like The Black Album, or perhaps doom royalty Trouble's Manic Frustration (another unsung, excellent record from this same year). Essentially, they decided to peel back the years and return to the roots of what made them interested in metal, and thus the compositions feel just as Deep Purple as they do Master of Puppets. Don't get me wrong, the boxcar tone of the guitars is heavy as balls, and there is plenty to bang your head or fists at, but The Ritual is so suffused with vocal echoes, reverb and beautiful, blues-born leads and melodies that it's built more for a road trip than a mosh pit. Seriously, whether you're behind the helm of an 18-wheeler of your mother's station wagon, this thing is the perfect accompaniment to a long highway or back-road trek, capable of making the journey just as emotionally resonant as the destination. One of the reasons I've been able to continually connect to it and enjoy it for such a long time.
This is not so much an album of nuance or innovation, but one of an 'alternate history'. Like a novel by Harry Turtledove, it answers its 'what if' scenario in style. Just the production on The Ritual alone breeds subtleties that fasten themselves to the ear (and heart) with each exposure, and what initially was a mild reception to just a handful of tracks has blossomed into a love of nearly every moment of the record. The one exception might be the closer "Troubled Dreams", which I often forget is even there, but it still fits the aesthetics of this sound rather well, its riffing structures a nod to the band's past. Even the power ballads on this crush their wimpier predecessors like "The Ballad" or "The Legacy"; the sultry, evocative mix and the superior vocals seem so much more heartfelt. Testament wrote those tracks to get on the radio, or to get laid, but they wrote these for dudes deep in their cups at the local bar, wondering where the next paycheck will come from. In particular, "Return to Serenity" is memorable, with its glossed cleans, distant hovering micro-leads and then a build-up with reminds me of the drama present in Megadeth's "In My Darkest Hour", with Billy clearly meting out a stronger performance than their earlier lighter-swaying fare.
The heart of this record, though, isn't its most sober moments, but the forceful, ass-kicking of the riffs native to songs like "Electric Crown", "Agony" and "The Sermon" which are impossible for me not to headbang to, or the slower, pulverizing grooves that comprise "So Many Lies" or "As the Seasons Grey". Though the song structures are pretty simplistic, with only a few central guitar progressions slathered in great leads and vocals, there isn't a single riff throughout that feels unnecessary or out of place. Greg Christian's bass tone is not so prevalent as Practice What You Preach, but more a flood of depth that anchors the muscular rhythm guitar. Louie Clemente's drums are pure hard rock, slight in technicality but long on power. As usual, the leads are very well prepared by Skolnick, peaking through the beautiful escalation of "As the Seasons Grey", but suitably shredding and acrobatic even on the intro "Signs of Chaos" or the swaggering rise and fall of "So Many Lies". At times, I felt a little Criss Oliva (Savatage) tone and technique in a handful of the rhythm guitar, never a bad thing, though Testament is far burlier.
Lyrically, this is probably the most personal of the Californians' works, and they deal with a lot of topics like loss, betrayal, and personal freedom. Again, we're not dealing with much complexity in their craft, but thanks to Chuck's infallible, Hetfield-esque inflection, almost every line on the album drives home its point, and where he erupts into the chorus of something like "Agony" I get chills down my spine, even in lieu of the predictable chord pattern below. It's the blues man. Iron clad blues, beating you within an inch of your life while granting you the wisdom to survive. Paired with the sheer gravity and pummeling force of the music, the message is unstoppable, and it's no wonder this album has grown so far in my estimation through persistent listening. I realize this isn't the shit-kicking nuclear thrash people want from Testament; the increased accessibility, diminished speed and riff mechanics exorcise it from that genre almost entirely. It's only perfect for about 45-48 minutes out the 55, but nevertheless, The Ritual is heartfelt, brave and brawny music which never loses its luster, and when did that stop being important? A rousing success of an 'experiment', and if I'm the only guy who loves this until he's old and grey, than I'll play the odd man out proudly.
For the better portion of my time being knowledgable of Testament, I have never actually taken the time to really get into this album. Personally, what few attempts I made ended up sounding tiresome and weak on almost every occasion, with the exception of the powerhouse "Electric Crown" which is easily the best song here. My mind has since changed, owing it perhaps to the fact that neither of the band's late 80's thrash era nor their 90's quasi-death/groove qualified as anything spectacular, though a few areas here and there crossed over into great listening metal.
This album doesn't really fit into either of those categories, being the odd man out stylistically. The closest album it does have in common is its predecessor, "Souls of Black," but even then the actual writing direction seems quite different. There is some variety in the influences being portrayed here, and one cannot help but equate this to either Metallica's self-titled album or MegaDeth's "Countdown to Extinction," with myself leaning more towards the latter, with Alex Skolnick's amazing abilities on his instrument being a prominent reason.
The best songs here make an at least hearty attempt at throwing in some thrash here and there, the frenetic "Electric Crown" taking my pick as best song here, perhaps one of the band's best. "Let Go of My World" doesn't quite make it there, but does pack a memorable riff and as always, a notable performance out of Skolnick. "Agony" boasts one of the best riffs on the album and ends up approaching thrash territory, but of course its not quite like it was in 1987. "So Many Lies" is another highlight, throwing in something of a doom metal atmosphere as a recurring theme, which then gives way to some "Countdown to Extinction" mid-tempo moments. "The Sermon" and "As the Seasons Grey" are both similiar in some respects, though neither are as memorable.
Unfortunately, while there are some good songs on here and even some great ones, there is a pretty high abundance of filler going on here or otherwise uninspired moments. "Return to Serenity" takes my pick as the worst song here, in which it attempts to emulate a sort of half-spooky, half-introspective atmosphere. The song does manage to exude some atmospheric affect, but ultimately stagnates and really ends up going nowhere. Other songs such as the title track and "Troubled Dreams" are both disposable tracks, both having some moments but neither one coming as particularly engaging nor memorable. In addition, some of the better songs here just end up going on for too long, which results in even the best songs at times feel too long and underwhelming.
All things considered, this is not a terrible album. Over time its managed to change my mind, which is pretty unusual considering the band we're discussing. "The Ritual" boasts a pretty solid production job, not unlike the two Metallica and MegaDeth albums its so often compared to. When the riffs are good, they definitely stand out, and Chuck Billy sounds better here than he did on any previous album. There is an unfortunate amount of songwriting mishaps that derail this from matching "Countdown to Extinction" in terms of quality and in some cases even falls below Metallica's self-titled. Still, its a fine listen as there are enough positive factors at play to keep this from becoming a sinking ship but its also not the grand highlight of the boatyard.
The beginning of the 1990s was a very difficult time to play thrash metal. Death and black was coming into being from the hellish abyss, from the other side – grunge/alternative. So as many bands Testament stood at the cross-roads. After four pure thrash albums they decided to change their music a bit by adding some heavy metal/hard rock influences to song structures. I don’t want to say it was a concious choice or not. The most important thing is: did Testament record a good album?
At the first sight – excellent front cover, but in this case Testament never disappointed. The first listening to “The Ritual” … and complete shock, not for me only, for the rest of fans too!!! Monstrous, coherent compositions with large intensification of melodies (not only riffs and guitar solos, but also Billy’s vocals). Generally, tempo of the songs was slow down (beside “Agony”), what born a title song of the album, which was never played in that way by a thrash band before. The musicians had placed a good ballad (“Return To Serenity”), which became a hit in radio stations. Vocals of Chuck Billy notched up a masterful level. Alex Skolnick proved he is one of the best metal guitarist. A good production permitted to perceive an artistry of bass and drums works.
Except for an intro “Signs Of Chaos” which is, in fact, some nice chaotic lead by Skolnick, Testament prepared ten metal (!) songs from which several are really splendid compositions. The most known I think is “Electric Crown” with great riffs, very interesting guitar addings and two excellent guitar solos. And then, the next liveshow-killer entitled “So Many Lies”, after ultra heavy beginning (great guitars work and drum cavalcade) turns to majestic slow song with consecutive outstanding solo. But the real pearl is title track “The Ritual”. The longest one so far, complete something-new in Testament’s output. It paralyzes by its own atmosphere, majesty, the skill of creating of the tension. And again – amazing Billy vocals, superb solo shows, excellent works of bass/drums. It is a perfect incidental music for example for Lovecraft’s story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. The last track I want to focus on is “As The Seasons Grey” – never played (I think) during official liveshows. Totally wonderful opening guitar lead with interesting drumwork turns to heavy, almost doom riff, after few seconds it becomes faster heavy thrash composition with extraordinary guitar solo which is something usual on this album.
To put it briefly, the band showed heavy thrash album, which was complete surprise for me and the rest of fans, but it is a great advantage. “The Ritual” is a masterpiece of metal music and I compare it to the best thrash metal albums ever “The Legacy”/”The New Order”. The sad thing is “The Ritual” is the last album with Alex Skolnick and his mighty and powerful guitars. Unfortunately, nobody was able to replace him worthily. Alex returned to his band to record some old songs (2001, “First Strike Still Deadly) and new stuff (2008, “The Formation Of Damnation”), but this is complete different story…
The last ‘old’ album in their classic line-up is quite a different one. Testament had gone mid paced nineties metal all the way here and not much old their earlier thrashing days thrash was left. At times resembling the nineties Metallica approach but without equally good vocals (Hetfields vocals still were quite good in 1991) and obviously the post-thrash Megadeth started playing on ‘Countdown To Extinction’.
The intro is short and has the same atmosphere as the instrumental guitar shredding soundscape in the 1986 movie ‘Trick Or Treat’ when Eddie Weinbauer playes the unreleased new Sammi Curr album. Anyway, that’s what always pops into my mind when I hear ‘Signs of Chaos’. (Check out that movie by the way if you don’t know it yet.)
After the intro the album presents us the two best songs immediately. ‘Electric Crown’ is a groovy pounder with great leads by Skolnick and a rather great bridge leading to the chorus. Second song ‘So Many Lies’ is doomy but effective trash metal with has a great melody played over the intro and a great eerie chorus. I still like to play these songs regularly when I’m in the mood for some Testament.
Other songs worthy of mentioning are the threesome ‘Agony, ‘The Sermon’ and ’Return to Serenity’. The last one is a sort of powerballad following those on the earlier two records but it has a chorus and Chucks vocals sound adequate enough though not mind blowing. The other mentioned two songs follow the mid paced Black Album approach and succeed at being good songs though not coming close to reaching the quality of the first two songs nor anything from their previous 4 albums.
Unfortunately, this about wraps up the positive aspect of ‘The Ritual’ together with the good production and album cover. All the other songs go in one ear and come out the other and are annoyingly harmless. There are some horrible rock ‘n roll riffs blended into the songs here and there and none of these songs are powerful nor emotional nor catchy enough to keep ones attention. Therefore as a whole ‘The Ritual’ turned out to be the least interesting album from their classic period.
However bad this album is – I must add – it does beat their following two pieces of deathish Nu-crap called ‘Low’ and ‘Demonic’ on which no good songs could be found at all. Best songs: ‘Electric Crown’, ‘So Many Lies’, ‘Agony’, ‘The Sermon’ and ‘Return to Serenity’.
Result: Good intro + 5 decent/good songs out of 11 equals 55 points.
The better days of my early life as a metal head were spent listening to thrash metal bands that got their start in the early to mid-80s, most of them portraying new and original takes on the sub-genre. Testament was a band that I didn’t have much exposure to until after things started to truly go south in the mid-90s. I picked up this album along with Fates Warning’s “Parallels”, another early 90s metal album that is not widely liked among the elites. Although at the time I immensely enjoyed it, “The Ritual” is not exactly what I would qualify as a classic album.
If anything saves this from being bargain bin material, it’s the lead work put forth by Alex Skolnick, who dwarfs anything ever put forth by Kirk Hammet. His style is probably the least thrash oriented of any lead player in the field, but as this album doesn’t consistently thrash from start to finish it works well. Lead highlights can be found on throughout, from the thematic shred fest that kicks off the album in “Signs of Chaos”, the lead fill happy thrasher “Electric Crown”, the solo of “Let go of my world”, and even on various points in the less than stellar tracks.
Sadly this album is held back by a lot of quasi-thrash filler, some confusion in who Chuck Billy is trying to emulate with his vocals, and some epic tracks gone wrong. “The Ritual” starts out promising, with some gloomy clean lines and some hard edged guitar work, but after the first 2 minutes we don’t get anything really different, it just plods along, never picking up in tempo or feel, and only shines during the solo (damn that Alex can shred). “Return to Serenity” is a little bit shorter, but meanders twice as much while managing to stay slow and somniferous.
Chuck Billy, who has never really stood out as one of my favorite singers, doesn’t really have much of a vocal identity of his own on here. Most of the time I hear blatant James Hetfield worship, which I’m sure will grate on the ears of anyone who is tired of all the media saturation involved with Metallica. Other times I’m hearing halfhearted attempts at sounding like Dave Mustaine on “As the Seasons Grey”, which is one of his better songs on here.
1992 was definitely the year of half-thrash (insert assed after half to get an idea what that sounds like) and we get a good amount of it on here. “So Many Lies”, “The Sermon” and “Troubled Dreams” are the worst offenders in this department, being loaded with redundant riffs, down tempo straight beats, and loads of quasi-inspired Black Album worship. “Agony” starts out really promising with a wicked intro riff, but soon after the drums kick into a slow as hell beat and drags the pace down. The song picks you up, proceeds to let you down again, and ultimately makes words like inconsistent seem complementary. “Deadline” has its share of groove to it, but offers up some nice melodic moments and plenty of lead guitar treats.
What remains is all that truly qualifies as thrash, albeit mid-paced thrash as the term speed became derogatory at the time that this came out. “Electric Crown” takes the pick for the great classic of the album, featuring a tight arrangement and all around great performances from each member. “Let go of my world” has a powerful chorus and a good vocal performance. “As the seasons grey” has some solid riffing that is a bit reminiscent of Cowboys from Hell, although Chuck Billy does not articulate the range necessary to quite have it shack up to “Heresy” or “Cemetery Gates”.
Would be buyers of this album are encouraged to look for it at under $10, this has some good moments, but if you are a fan of full thrash (Testament exhibited this from time to time on earlier releases) you will probably be skipping a good amount of the tracks on here. If you liked the Black Album and Cowboys from Hell, this may appeal to you, otherwise I’d either pick up “Souls of Black” or “The Legacy”, which is most of what is worth picking up by this band.
After the above average album that was 'Souls of Black', Testament went down in quality yet again with 'The Ritual'. Some accuse them of selling out, but this is not entirely true, as this still sounds like a Testament record throughout, from the riffing to the excellent soloing.
For 'The Ritual' Testament slowed down the pace and increased the sense of groove. The half-thrash style was hinted at in the previous two albums, but only on here did it really come out. Make no mistake, there are thrash songs on here, there is just less of them than previously. The riffs sound like a combination of groove and thrash, and range from good to pretty bad. Like on any Testament record, most of them sound the same. While on 'Souls of Black' there was an increased number of riffs present that actually sounded different to each other, 'The Ritual' takes a step backwards with nearly all the songs sounding the same as each other. The bad as a whole don't seem to be putting in the energy they once did, and the result is a below average album which lacks any intensity or memorability.
There are some highlights on this. 'Electric Crown' is easily the best, with that killer midpaced riff combined with some above average vocals making it a winner. As would be expected, there is a great solo halfway through that owns everything before it returns to normal. 'Let Go of My World' has its ups and downs; it's boring in the verses but in the chorus it really picks up with a great riff. 'Agony' is a good thrasher that wouldn't sound out of place on the previous album. For a ballad, 'Return to Serenity' really isn't that bad, although what really saves it from mediocrity is the soloing.
As for the other tracks, well they're nothing special. 'So Many Lies' is carried by a boring, unimaginative groove that must have been a source of inspiration for future groove acts. 'The Ritual' is Testament's worst ballad, and fails to get anywhere with both the soft and loud sections being nothing to write home about. 'Deadline' wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the terrible vocals in the chorus, while 'The Sermon' sounds like everything else on the album and is sub standard. 'Troubled Dreams' is more of the same.
What all this adds up to is a sub standard thrash/groove album that simply rehashes the riff in 'Electric Crown' and throws in two ballads. Not really a good thrash album if you ask me. While this release would lead on to 'Low' which is a pretty enjoyable album, this album has barely any redeeming points. Not worth spending your time on.
I do tend to agree with some of the previous reviews of this album, in the sense that Testament did in fact take the time to rise to the occassion of what one would deem to be mainstream metal as of 1992, no thanks to bands such as Metallica or even Megadeth. However, this album has one hell of a crafty axeman by the name of Alex Slolnick, who's style is so unique that this album manages to rise above and beyond the work of most of their peers.
The production is the best that its ever been for the band, thanks to new producer Michael Wagner. The melodies and hooks that were crafted for this album are everywhere, and manage to ooze out of every song. Here's the cool part though. Many of the songs most memorable parts can actually be found in the guitar solos. No bullshit here, these guitar solos were not hacked during "spur of the moment" studio time. No, these guitar solos were well thought out, with percise timings as to where and when to insert them in an effort to polish off and embelish the over all quality of each and every track on the album.
The songs themsleves have been covered in great detail by many other reviews and like I already said, I tend to agree with the majority of what's been said. However, I will focus on specific points;
1. The opening track Electric Crown is in fact the best that the band has to offer, so just leave it alone. Does it really matter if song has 4 riffs or 40? Well, it should if the 4 riffs are enough to make the song work, and in this case they most certainly do.
2. Please, no more use of the term half-thrash! What the fuck is that anyway? Thrash is not based on tempo...OK. Riffs, energy, aggression, attitude, lyrics, and overall delivery(feel) of a song will deem it to be a bonafide thrash metal tune. Half Thrash is a meaningless term
So album also has one of the best lead guitar tones that I have ever heard, and the ironic thing is that when Alex played this stuff live, not only was it played note for note, but it even sounded the same.
This album saw the band going for a more slow approach, grooveish riffs, not thrashy, this would be their version of Metallica's "Black Album" and Megadeth's "Countdown to Extinction", although I think some of this is even slower than anything on those albums. For instance, the title track, REALLY slow, but that doesn't mean it's not good, because it is. This is the last album with guitar shredder Alex Skolnick, he would go to Jazz-Fusion afterwards, and James Murphy would step in and take his place on the following album, Low. Anyways, back to this album, it's really not that bad, although it doesn't stand up to their previous work, and I will even admit, that the following album "Low" is better.
First let's get this out "Electric Crown" is an EXCELLENT song, the best on the album, "So Many Lies" is really slow, kind of half-thrash like, but still good, "Let Go Of My World" has a really heavy riff, and a nice solo, "The Ritual" as I stated above, is really slow, but it's good, nice lead work in it, "Deadline" again, has some very nice lead work, all in all, a good song.
After that, the album kind of sinks, loses steam, "As The Seasons Grey" has some nice riffs, but it's just nothing special, "Agony" isn't that good, "The Sermon" has a nice catchy chorus, still doesn't stand up to any of the first 6 though, "Return to Serenity" is another Testament ballad, and this is the one I don't like, seems like theres something missing from it, "Troubled Dreams" is an OK closer, just not spectacular.
Half of this album is really good, half is just OK, if you're looking for Thrashy stuff, do not, I repeat, DO NOT look here, this is FAR from Thrashy. If you don't mind something a bit slower than your normal Thrash, check it out. It's not terrible like I said, it just doesn't stand up to the previous work, or even Low.