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Ritual Sledgehammer - 89%

tidalforce79, December 29th, 2017

Num Skull remains among the cult bands of the late eighties; yet another band that sits somewhere between death metal and thrash. Despite the macabre cover art, and song titles that point to style of the album, I cannot help but feel the band’s name was partially responsible for their inability to gain more renown. When a person sees “Num Skull” the first thing that comes to mind is a punk band. One is left to wonder how many times metal fans passed up the album with the same thought. Nevertheless, those who bravely endure the album will discover how wrong they were.

The initial seconds of the album set the tone for ceaseless brutality. Ritually Abused is clearly made for adrenaline junkies only-the type of people who enjoy jumping from airplanes. Indeed, the album is hazardous to the health, yet in a thoroughly enjoyable fashion. Imagine getting bit in the scrotum (pick another anatomical feature if you’re female) by a venomous snake, but instead of panic and agony, the pain fills you with a compelling desire for more. This album is the sonic equivalent to dirty, street heroine-you know the risks, yet crave the high.

Like a relentless pickaxe to the brain, all forty-two minutes of the album are physically exhausting. The title track is not only punishing at supersonic speed, but contains two, monumentally aggressive breaks-throw yourself on a table saw and you will get the same result. The only comparison that immediately comes to mind is Demolition Hammer. Ritually Abused is just as tight as the classic “Epidemic of Violence,” though perhaps slightly less “thick.”

Case and point: the ripping display of pummeling riffs. There are plenty of bands that play heavy and fast, but not many sound this tight. The listener will never hear a complete lack of musicianship. Ritually Abused transitions from one riff to the next with fluidity. The rhythm section keeps the frequently merciless pace, and the solos; though not spectacular, are superior to any found on most Slayer albums.

Once again, the key to ultimate brutality is effective variety in tempo. Ritually Abused dispenses faux mercy, with slow, plodding riffs, followed by an execution by fully automatic death. If a band wishes to deliver an attack at continuous, maximum speed, the album needs to be short: see “Reign in Blood” and “Illusions.” However, an album like “Idolatry” is more effective due to its cycling of tempo-Ritually Abused follows this methodology. The album is a tormentor of poseur souls. If you think Slipknot is heavy, this will put you into cardiac arrest.

Ritually Abused throws you into frenzy: it commands you to harm the elderly.

The production on this slab of audio destruction is a sign of the times. While not terrible, it perhaps encumbers the sound in a minor way. Had Ritually Abused been produced in a similar manner to “Epidemic of Violence,” the effects would be even more traumatic to the skull. As it is, this album never lets up-never ceases the crushing of the brain.

This album cannot really be considered in the same league as other brutal masterpieces of thrash for a single reason-the vocals. No one expects a phenomenal vocal performance from a thrash band, yet it is not too much to expect that the vocalist does not hamper the overall sound. Unfortunately, the vocals on Ritually Abused prove somewhat distracting. Each horrid scream will leave the listener wanting for a Tom from Slayer, or even Max from Sepultura. Despite the flawed vocal performance, a thrash or death metal fan is wise to pick this album up-it is a rarely matched display of aggression.

It Hurts - 95%

GuntherTheUndying, January 15th, 2015

We hear the term ‘brutal’ used ad nauseam among the death metal and deathcore crowds. This is due to the word’s definition having mostly been twisted out of true. Brutal, according to stuff, refers to the savage, the cold-blooded, the ruthlessly harsh.

Wrong: Those guttural oinks and tinny blast beats clicking over and over again sure are brutal LOL! #swag XD :P <3

Right: Num Skull’s “Ritually Abused” is brutal.

I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing all sorts of metal subgenres and styles, but “Ritually Abused” is insane. Morbid Saint and Demolition Hammer instantly come to mind, both of which are coincidentally similar in sound and style to the nonoperational Num Skull. The band’s fossilized remains are spotted by demos and minor splits, although they did make three full-length records (one of which was never released properly, apparently). “Ritually Abused” marked the debut of Num Skull’s short run, born in 1988. For a period when thrash was alive and death metal’s stillborn corpse had been wiggling its way out into the world, “Ritually Abused” is a child of its time. The primitive and developed aesthetics of both sounds are massive and translated clearly, leading to a spot among the most punishing albums ever, no debate.

Part of the allure of classic albums/masterpieces is that they usually make their own mark upon a style, or at least provide a sense that the game has been, indeed, changed. But “Ritually Abused” is completely lacking in this sentiment; it’s a thrash/death metal album showing influence from Possessed, Kreator, Slayer, Sodom, keep the list going. Nothing remotely original beyond its basic description, in sum. Num Skull, however, took the intensity of the aforementioned bands, created unparalleled levels of pulverization, and effectively out-violenced even the most ruthless acts of their time and beyond. They sound like an embodiment of viciousness, charging forth at breakneck speeds played with matchless precision and medial-tempo parts that are heavier than ten of the heaviest things you can envision.

Sound quality is the winning ticket for “Ritually Abused.” These guitars bite with a razor-sharp tone, much like that found on Morbid Saint’s “Spectrum of Death.” Slashing riffs scorching at a million miles an hour sound like bombs going off, while underneath the bass is plucking and grinding manically. The drums are wild and chaotic—fills left and right and up-tempo patterns so hectic they debatably come off as disordered. I’m not sure how to even analytically describe the vocals. This guy, Skip McGullam, sounds like he swallowed razor blades ten minutes before vocal tracking and tried shouting as blood and gore spewed out of his mouth. Is he growling? Rasping? Trying to snarl while he drinks gasoline? I don’t have a clue.

I could sit here and call “Ritually Abused” the brutalist thing ever until my knuckles wither, but the intensity wouldn’t mean a rat’s ass had the dudes of Num Skull not penned excellent riffs and known the ins and outs of this style. Little bits of the death metal sound appear in the Possessed-like guitar sequences and nonstop calamity of the drums continuously pounding in frenzied rhythms. The energy in these numbers is unmatched; the voltage among the collective performance feels like the work of a sixth member behind the scenes. Morbid Saint-esque thrash/death metal with prime technical precision and insane Slayer-styled leads, harsh enough to both drain “Spectrum of Death” and give Kerry King anal fissures.

Num Skull did not last much longer, however. In 1991 came “Future – Our Terror,” though supposedly never properly released, and thus mired by limited distribution. Another record was made in 1996—a Cannibal Corpse-flavored death metal effort seasoned like “Tomb of the Mutilated” called “When Suffering Comes”—before Num Skull’s run went down the drain. “Ritually Abused” is, nevertheless, a wonderful gem of this era, flirting on the cusp with extremer elements while beating a fair number of legendary bands at their own game. It really peels my potatoes that “Ritually Abused” and Num Skull have been left in the void of obscurity, nameless and foreign to most. Do yourself a favor and give “Ritually Abused” a shot, right now. It’s not how we start, but how we finish, and I’m sure metal enthusiasts will give “Ritually Abused” a spin and realize immediately just why Num Skull had the right idea.

This review was written for:

simply the most underrated, vicious thrash ever - 100%

beatleringo, January 26th, 2012

This record is perfect and then some. A proper score would be 103. The only album so awesome in my ears it gets extra credit.

When people are talking about the most underrated albums ever, usually they still pick albums that, while maybe truly underrated, are still cornerstones in the collections of tens of thousands of metal fans. I know Coroner is often underrated, but no one doesn't know who you're talking about. Num Skull is underrated in that you may have missed them completely - which makes this particular album the most underrated of all time in my mind, because it's really that amazing. Side by side, I'll take this over Reign In Blood, Seven Churches, Leprosy...any of them. Num Skull were victims of their locale and an industry which had no idea what to do with them.

I was about 12 or 13 living in Southeastern Wisconsin and there was a ball field my friends and I would play on every day. One day, in a garage right next to that field, the loudest and scariest racket EVER shot out like World War III was waging in a two-car garage. It terrified us all. It was Num Skull, rehearsing sometime around the time they made their Nums the Word demo (1985). Being kids who only knew metal as Twisted Sister and Ratt and the like, we couldn't make heads or tails ouf of any of it. But, here, more than 25 years later, I recognize that first Num Skull experience as one of the most important happenings of my existence. I saw my first Mercyful Fate, S.O.D. and Exodus LPs in that garage because we started nosing around in there. Something way cooler was happening in there. These guys were the real deal.

There was even a car in the driveway which spoke of this metalness to which we were totally naive. Spray painted on one door of this old Vega, was "Ozzy." Spray painted on the other door was "Marlboro." These were the kids who sat in the back of the school bus trying to steal a toke that the bus driver couldn't catch a whiff of growing up, they gave no fuck about anything that wasn't the heaviest shit on Earth. Metal. They lived the metal lifestyle full-on, it was party time. This was thrash in its infancy, very real and very organic bliss, when it was still scary and totally unknown ...ahead of their time. When I listen to a new band, even a good one like Warbringer, I know they don't have even a tenth of what made Num Skull as awesome as they were.

People say that Bonded By Blood would have made more of an impact had it not been delayed in release by a year, but the passage of time and the praise of millions of metalheads has allowed Bonded to achieve its rightful place in metal history. No one says Exodus is underrated. They've gotten their due and still tour to this day because of it. Had Ritually Abused come out in 1985/86 as it could have, it would be one of the big ones that people still talk about. And the subsequent chatter about it may have elevated it to the true godly status it also deserves.

Ritually Abused ranks alongside Morbid Saint's debut as the heaviest and best metal ever to come out of Wisconsin (or NE Illinois, if that's where the true Num Skull birthplace is), or the entire Midwest for that matter. Perhaps Morbid Saint would be the closest reference to what you're hearing on this album. At any rate, it was released on Medusa, which was an obscure off-shoot of Enigma, and, even locally a store might get one copy and then never stock it again. So it came and went quickly, thoroughly lost in the pre-Internet era, and dominated by the major labels' debuts of the Big Four, the distraction that was the Testament/Flotsam/Sacred Reich wave and so on. So when this finally arrived in 1988, it got lost in the shuffle and that is a fucking shame of grade-A proportions. This album sounds and truly FEELS evil, folks. To this day. A song like "Off With Your Head" with its blaze then mosh then blaze then mosh intro... or a song like "Rigor Mortis" which out-duels all comers with its 100 percent all-out thrash cadence only to give us a sweet mosh breakdown about halfway through and concluding with a truly vicious, vicious solo... I tell you. This will shoot to the top of your favorite records list. SO HEAR IT. It's a sinister masterwork and although it's clearly part of the same genre which spawned the classics I've mentioned, this is the only record that sounds like this one does. Peerless.

And it's never been properly reissued, so if you gotta download it... i didn't see anything. I have a sealed LP still which will never be opened, as well as the original cassette I wore out long ago and a semi-good CD boot that made the rounds about 15 years ago. All totally played a million times. Loud. With headphones.

What you'll find on Ritually Abused is start-stop-on-a-dime thrash metal with the earliest leanings of infusing death metal. But, these guys played with a furor and legitimacy that even the genre's forefathers would find impossible to replicate. And, even though albums made by Kreator and Possessed, etc. existed earlier, Num Skull were in their garage days doing precisely that same thing only faster, more raw and sinister yet more refined as individual talents. They just didn't get that same shake at being first on the totem pole. Being a Midwestern band didn't do them any favors and by the time this came out, some of the originality had been siphoned from it by virtue that Combat, Metal Blade and Noise and a few other labels had already devirginized us to this art form to a degree. But this band should have been right there with the known commodities from day one. Headlining OVER Slayer, etc.

As much as I would very much love to soak this review in fancy verbiage and whatnot, it deserves to be told straight up, that this record needs to be heard to be believed and appreciated. Stylistically, I always thought Num Skull were heavy on the Possessed/Exodus vibe, only the performances are more athletic, the vocals drenched in three times the battery acid, the solos were Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King flipped from 33rpm to 45rpm and more properly technical and rehearsed. There's not a split second of this album that is not simply among the finest you'll ever hear. It was borderline grindcore before anyone knew the term, as I'd actually say this sounds closer to a thrash/grind band like Repulsion than it did Kreator, though an album like Endless Pain was likely an influence as well. This had the mosh breakdowns along with the crushing speed, it's really got it all. Furthermore, this punishes the entire first wave of American death metal. Some new-schoolers, missing the importance of the era, will decidedly call this one-dimensional because it's clearly not a 2012 album. It's old school, but it sounds as fresh to me and un-dated as any new record. It's a valid testament to the days when you had to search for the true gems, yet all the searching in the world could matter not, because that was just the times. If it wasn't in a fanzine or if your brother's friends didn't have it, you missed it. I'm sure there are other Num Skull's out there, victims of an era where it took being on one of the coasts or being the biggest fish in a European scene to find an audience. Even though it's been 25+ years, this can still find its place, because it's timeless and will prove far more rewarding than even the best of the new school of thrash metal.

If this album (along with the demos that spawned it) were properly revered when it was still new, we'd be seeing them do the 25-year reunion thing and all would be right. But, that's not happened and I wonder if Num Skull (terrible 1996 Cannibal Corpse-sounding reunion lineup aside) knows fully what original fans of this record felt at the time and most likely still feel about it. I know I'm not alone. Anyone I play this for pretty much shits their pants.

Violent, wicked cult classic - 95%

tylr322, July 12th, 2011

For those of you who like the intense, speedy, brute force side of thrash, this is a must hear. Guaranteed to impress with it's relentless drumming, monumental, monster riffs, exaggerated vocals and evil lyrics. Basically the whole package, actually there are some quite uplifting, plain cool lyrics too, particularly on the track "Pirate's Night." The production isn't perfect but still almost as heavy and ferocious as possible, and no one should be complaining about bad production (not that this album is badly produced) as that is that is what fans of this genre have come to accept and like.

With such hyper fast, unrelenting tempos, you might be in shock after listening to just a few songs. However, you can be sure the tracks found here can make other well known offerings look weak, dull and hopeless in comparison. The bands delivery can be described as a wicked and unstoppable force. Now, you may need breaks in between headbanging to a single song here as it might fall off if you're not careful. There are no real highlights but this is not a bad thing, possibly some tracks are slightly more memorable than others, notably "Turn Off a Screw", "The Henchmen" and "Pirates Night." Oh, and the song "Off With Your Head" has one of the most violent choruses ever created. The sheer intensity and energy of each individual track is what really makes this album stand out among the more ordinary recordings out there. They just don't make them like this any more.

Now, there are some minor issues one might have with this album, but the one that sticks out the most are the extremely, exaggerated vocals. They are rather unique in their own right but could prove just too much for someone who is not really accustomed to this harsh vocal style. An extreme death metal fan is more likely to accept these vocals than a hardcore power metal fan. Whether you could really adore these vocals is another issue all together. Other than this small setback there is nothing left to worry about, except your head still being attached to your body.

I can only imagine how it would have been to be in the pit when these guys were around. Overall this is one of those rare gems, a testament to what over-the-top thrash metal is about, If you like Darkness Descends, you will love this. Ritually Abused is an underground, cult classic that can't really be topped.