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Testament's Experimental Era: 1992 - 100%

Testament1990, December 12th, 2020
Written based on this version: 1992, CD, Atlantic Records (US)

The Ritual released in 1992 has some of the most dividing opinions among Testament fans some people love this album and some people just downright hate it. I'm on the side that really loves this record, it's different and is a more experimental change in sound from the band's first 4 albums that were full on thrash metal. With this release Testament toned down the speed quite a bit and packed in even more melody with this one. The Ritual is like the bands first 4 records in a way still sounding like Testament but toned down to just standard heavy metal rather than the thrash metal style they perfected with their first 4 albums. The Ritual would be the final album with the classic lineup of Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnick, Greg Christian, and Louie Clemente. After the subsequent tour of The Ritual ended Skolnick and Clemente would leave the band with Skolnick returning to the band in 2005 and Clemente never making a return to the band. This album is a great example of a product of the times. While The Ritual is a different shade of the bands iconic sound and a step in a different direction than their first 4 peak period releases this record is still a masterpiece of melodic standard heavy metal. In the early 90's the landscape of heavy metal in general was changing due to a few things happening which caused majority of the thrash metal bands to shift their sound in a different more experimental direction taking different routes based on the success of a few records that came about in 1991/1992.

In the year prior in August of 1991 Metallica released the black album and it blew up big and majority of other thrash metal acts saw the success Metallica achieved from the black album and thought they too could garner more success by going down the same route. Also in September of 1991 Nirvana would release Nevermind and that album would propel the grunge movement into the mainstream causing labels to drop metal acts in favor for bands like Nirvana which made it harder for metal acts to stay afloat during these experimental times. Thrash metal bands wouldn't necessarily take this fork in the road but there was rare exceptions where thrash bands would go down a more alternative route. Most thrash metal acts wouldn't turn to grunge but Nevermind played a pivotal role in the death of the thrash metal scene and with grunge being the new flavor of the month due to Nirvana's success with Nevermind it was another factor that forced thrash metal bands to experiment with their sound. The last big change to the metal landscape in the early 90's came in February of 1992 with Pantera releasing their groove metal opus Vulgar Display of Power. Pantera along with Exhorder pioneered a new genre called groove metal during this time and Pantera were the ones to blow up big with it. The success of Vulgar Display of Power was another route thrash metal bands tended to take in order to keep up with the changing experimental times and hoped to garner a similar amount of success that Pantera did. This is just how I view what happened to the thrash metal scene in the early 90's and Testament were no exception to this as in my opinion they would take the Metallica black album route with 1992's The Ritual just like many other thrash metal bands at the time did.

Now with this being said I do like the black album very much but to me The Ritual is a far superior release and did sell really well for Testament being their biggest selling album at the time and led them to tour arenas with some huge acts like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden during this era of the band. The Ritual isn't a clone of the black album but it is very much Testament's version of the black album. It's still Testament through and through but it was more toned down and more "accessible" sounding compared to the likes of their first 4 releases. While I wish they kept doing full on thrash during this time I still really love this album and it is a different shade of the bands sound. The production/mix on The Ritual is really well done the guitars are more mid driven and very crunchy. Chucks vocals are centered nicely in the mix and are very melodic on this release. Christian's bass playing isn't super audible here but you can hear him here and there. Clementes drum sound is solid and the snare is more tighter sounding that previous Testament albums.

The songs here are damn good with this being the longest Testament album at the time clocking in at 55 minutes. The album starts with a 30 second guitar solo that bridges into the classic "Electric Crown" which is almost like a slower "Hit the lights" after every chorus there is a guitar solo that jams each time. The Chorus is super catchy in this one and the opening riff is simply unforgettable. "So Many Lies" follows which is a more groovier track that grinds along and is by far the heaviest song on The Ritual. "Let Go Of My World", "Agony", "Deadline", "The Sermon", and "Troubled Dreams" are all great tracks that are more mid paced and give a solid definition of the more toned down standard heavy metal approach that the band took on The Ritual. All these tracks are excellent metal songs with ripping solos in them by Alex Skolnick. The title track is super doomy and is almost like a semi ballad type of song that is one of the longest songs the band ever crafted its really heavy and has some interesting parts and the solo starts with some crazy volume swells from Skolnick before kicking into the rest of the solo. "As The Seasons Grey" is another slower to mid paced type of song that is quite long and groovy for what it is and features some melodic vocal work from Chuck mixed in with his more aggressive vocals mainly during the chorus. "Return To Serenity" is an absolutely beautiful ballad from Testament and just goes to show how damn good they are at making these type of songs. I know the band isn't to fond of their ballads but god damn were they amazing at crafting these epic tracks and they contrast with the more heavier stuff too well. Most metal bands could not enter the territory of a song like "Return To Serenity" and thrive like Testament. This is why they are one of the most versatile bands in the thrash metal genre. Testament can go in any direction and make it damn good while others would fail miserably.

For their last record together this lineup performed pretty amazing here on The Ritual starting with the guitars Eric and Alex gel like they always do really well together even with a album at this pace the riffs are crunchy and memorable and Skolnick's leads are a bit more bluesy here which is a nice touch to the tracks. Then again Skolnick can do wrong with a solo you can give him anything and he will tear it up somehow. Chucks vocals here are way more melodic and slick compared to his more sharper tone of voice on previous efforts. Billy really adapted to this new sound and found a way to mix his thrashier style with this more melodic material and his voice is astonishing here. Christian while not to audible holds down the groove greatly and glides along with Clementes drumming really well. Clemente is laid back here his drumming was never the most technical so these songs provide a solid pace for him to thrive and it's a shame this is his last album with the band because I miss his simplistic approach to even the thrashier stuff prior to the Ritual. Clementes suit the song approach made it to where the guitars and vocals just stood out. Testament nowadays has had great drummers in Bostaph and Hoglan but I miss their their classic lineup from 1987-1992 and to this day I still think that was the prime Testament lineup.

This album may get tons of hate but it is still a monumental release for its time because most thrash metal bands turned to much more horrible approaches with their sounds or just simply threw in the towel and disbanded. The Ritual is a masterpiece of standard heavy metal with a melodic touch to it I truly feel the band went the best possible route during this changing time for heavy metal. Though not as successful as Metallica or Megadeth during this time The Ritual just obliterates what those 2 bands were doing in 1991 and 1992 and it's a damn shame Testament didn't blow up in the mainstream with The Ritual. I'd recommend The Ritual to anyone who is into old school metal and doesn't mind some of the early 90's changes that were going on in metal at the time. I know a lot of people who hate this experimental time in the early-mid 90's when thrash metal bands were changing their sounds to stay afloat but, Testament were one of the few that were still putting out quality metal records during this era. The Ritual is still for me a damn solid album and even though its a different direction than their first 4 records it is still on that masterpiece level of quality and is a album I revisit regularly. Testament would go through its first major lineup changes after The Ritual and would have to re group and find a new lead guitar player and drummer for their next album. Testament would soon ditch the Metallica black album route they took on The Ritual (which they did better than Metallica in my opinion) in favor of the Pantera route and get a lot more heavier than ever before and start packing way more groove influences into their sound on their next album.

Testament V : The Shitting Of The Bed - 45%

DanielG06, November 17th, 2020

Well ladies and gentleman, Testament have officially fallen from grace, with the release of this sappy, unfocused, messy, mediocre record. that’s how I’d describe it, just mediocre. Signs of Chaos is a pretty pointless intro, it’s just wind with a cool little guitar lick. It complretely lacks emotion and tension compared to Souls of Black’s intro, and the disappointments only begin there. Electric Crown is drier than the Sahara, and it’s moderately catchy, but not catchy enough for me to stay. It’s just two okay riffs over chants, for 5 and a half minutes it’s very dull, not a great start.

The formula that I mentioned in the Souls of Black review has been scrapped completely, Testament just seemed to abandon what made them great, and start following the crowd of bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault and Razor, who just nosedived deeper and deeper into the pits of musical mediocrity with every consecutive release. The musicality of this album has been obviously dumbed down, which is most noticeable in the guitar and drum work, both of which have dropped Testament's previous blend of heavy thrashing with melodic technical heaven, and instead switched to simple emotionless riffing and just straight-up uninspired songwriting. This is perpetrated the most on songs like "Let Go Of My World" and the appropriately titled "Agony", these songs are just grating on the ears, it's a literal chore to listen to them, especially knowing this was the same band that pumped out "Disciples of the Watch" and "Raging Waters". Evidently, the songwriting is the biggest issue on this album, everything just sounds lazy and uninspired and drags on and on, add the fact that this is a good 10 minutes longer than any previous Testament album.

So Many Lies is fairly groovy, but still not great. There’s barely any substance, and the heaviness is ruined by the production. The title track is a nice ballad, the best on this album by far, it’s over 7 minutes, and it’s looming and creepy, it’s pretty good. Deadline is also a nice track, but still nothing to write home about, the very thin guitar tones are drowned out by the annoyingly echoey vocals. The Sermon is experimental, and half-works (sort of...) it’s quite a political song. Return to Serenity is yet another ballad, I don’t really like it but it’s not bad. Troubled Dreams is a very good song, nice riffs and rhythm overall. I think the worst parts of this album are the terrible production, and godawful drums, the entire 54 minute runtime is plagued with the same beat, just pounding until you wanna cut out your earlobes with a crowbar. However, the bass is still nicely prominent, and Chuck Billy’s vocals are still tight-ish. Eric and Alex’s playing has severely plummeted in quality, leads are almost seldom here, and the impressive virtuosic approach in their early days is long gone. This record is very hit and miss, a sign of things to come.

The Ritual of Commercialization - 75%

Petrus_Steele, April 21st, 2020
Written based on this version: 1992, CD, Atlantic Records (US)

Breaking off their cycle of releasing records every year, perhaps The Ritual had extra time to come up with something better, seeing as the band’s quality has only decreased. The Ritual may still be a bad sign, as this was the last record since Chuck joined the band to feature all original band members. The respected lead guitarist Alex Skolnick would departure to venture other things and also join the power metal band Savatage for one record and then some. The drummer Louie Clemente would also leave, though he left the music industry entirely. He only returned once and performed live with the band in 2005. And with that being said, The Ritual is a very commercial record, in both quality and sound production. It should’ve won gold certification by the RIAA by now...

The prelude is just short guitar riffs, pointlessly adding an eleventh track. It couldn’t get any worse with one of the crummiest songs from the band. Not only Electric Crown is extremely repetitive, but it’s very poor in its structure and composition, feeling so bland. Chuck sounds like he’s bored, the riffs almost sound pretentious, and the lyrics are awful. The song is a downward spiral. So Many Lies is somewhat slow and focuses more on heaviness. I’m quite surprised but glad the bass is strong here, as it gives a powerful tone to the song. However, it’s a predictable song, with formulaic songwriting and repetition. Can’t say the song doesn’t have potential, but not hopeful. More awesomeness but lacking originality in the next song that is quite forgettable. The Sermon sounds like it picks from the better songs this album has to offer, yet doesn’t reach the expected quality.

I’m rather embracing these new ballads than most of the thrash-based and heavier stuff. Seems to be the only quality the band produces to my interest, as far as the last two records go. And this time, their title track here is amazing! Melodic, menacing, gloomy in a way, and heavy. This is also their longest song until 20 years later Cold Embrace from Dark Roots of Earth beat it. I’m assuming you may find this song to have a predictable structure, but at least it displays quality. I don’t see it standing out a commercial song. The other song is Return to Serenity which despite showing more catchy and heavy riffs, it’s more melodic. Speaking of which, Deadline sounds a bit like an Aerosmith (not surprising) or Guns N’ Roses (too insulting) song. Definitely sounds like something you’d hear on the radio, but not inherently a terrible thing with this song. The extra vocal layers made it better. It’s groovy and overall fun to listen, though there’s no denying the quality is decreasing. As the Seasons Grey touches upon even heavier bass tones, while maintaining a paced groove and heaviness between the instruments. It would make you forget about its structure, for how awesome this song is, from start to finish.

Perhaps The Ritual isn’t as bad as I thought, despite being commercial. There are quite enough great songs to choose from, while does that are seemingly bad have potential. So ultimately the pointless prelude and Electric Crown are the worst in the album’s tracklist. Might consider this a bold move from the band, but it’s either that or continue from the uninspiring Souls of Black rotation. I think I’ve mentioned enough rituals this album contains, but the last one is the band’s future; changing. While it’s a great album, there’s not that many best songs between the two ballads other than As the Seasons Grey.

Black Album? Or Perhaps A Touch Of Doom - 60%

Sweetie, November 1st, 2019

For no reason beyond the extremely varied opinions that many have on The Ritual, it's one of the most fun Testament records to talk about. It's got multiple reputations: the last classic album, their "black" album, the transition album, the one that starts off way stronger than it lets on. All of these statements are true in some form or another, especially the last of those. I say that because "Electric Crown" and "So Many Lies" are obvious phenomenal bangers, ultimately acting as a giant tease, seeing the rest of this won't hold that same level of momentum.

However, I find it hard to call this anything transitional, seeing that it doesn't resemble the next album Low in the slightest. That said, I give it props for being the biggest step away from familiar territory that Testament ever took up until this point. By that I mean it broke the cycle, despite how immaculate everything before this was. However, it wound up bringing them into a safer zone, incorporating a lot of rock 'n roll patterns. I find many traces of doom metal here as well, most prominently in the title track. That song is fierce, stomping, dark, and the vocals' clean nature coats everything with an even eerier aura. The basslines, the cleaner transitions, and the maniacal laughs all capitalize on it. Regarding commercial-ability, I seldom see many things that would hint at this save for maybe "Deadline" due to nothing more than the harmonic and hooky chorus. But even then, they've still managed to capture an unsettling feeling. "Return To Serenity" is also another obvious fit for that.

Unfortunately, the rest of this only proves the popular opinion correct, because I can't find anything else on The Ritual that stands out beyond this point. Taking a slower and more doom-ridden approach may have had something to do with the longer song lengths and overblown finished product. Most thrash masterpieces hardly exceed the forty minute mark. So what's left winds up being a bunch of empty tunes with few standouts. The ballad "Return To Serenity" displays loads of potential at the start of it. It's melodic and soothing, but even this song overstays its welcome. Perhaps they tried to recapture the brilliance of "The Ballad." Even "Agony," despite the love it tends to get somewhat leaves me hanging and feels rather tired.

I'll admit that I do enjoy this album more than I did previously, and with that I'll say that it's the worst classic Testament album in my humble opinion. All that goes to show is that they do not have any bad records, rather ones that are good, great, or alright. This is the last of those three. Much like a Subway sub; the tastes you get are pretty good, but boy howdy there's way too much bread. Or in this case, too much filler. If this were fifteen minutes shorter, it could have been significantly better.

Decent commercial metal - 72%

gasmask_colostomy, January 16th, 2018

I like Testament. Always have, always will. However, I'm not sure if it's the idea of Testament that I like or the five men with guitars and sticks and things that actually make the music. Maybe it's the former, because if I'm hard pressed to choose an album by the Californians that I really love, I'm not sure which one it would be. I'm quite partial to The Formation of Damnation, but that isn't exactly the most celebrated of their releases by a long shot, while the debut is unquestionably good, just not awfully attractive to me. That said, using the idea of Testament, one might also have predicted that they would have made the best shot at mainstream metal out of all the original thrash bands, since they had the colossal melodic voice of Chuck Billy to power into choruses and the intrinsic interest and skill of Alex Skolnick, who could even make a slow, plodding song into a melodic feast of solos.

What we get on The Ritual is more or less a test of that theory, since this is the album where Testament definitively dropped the thrash and moved into melodic waters without looking back. Far be it from me to knock that, because thrash isn’t my favourite metal style in any case, while Testament tended to use more melodic and note-based ideas than peers in Metallica and Slayer, so the sound presented in the early ‘90s suits this band more than it did others. Naturally, the pace takes quite a dip, staying at a steady medium chug on almost every song here, while the “fast songs” are only quick by comparison to what surrounds them. Eric Peterson hasn’t changed his playing style to any great degree over the years, the note and chord sequences twisting through ‘Deadline’ not a far cry from ‘The Preacher’ four years previously, not to mention ‘Afterlife’ that featured on a comeback album 16 years down the line. Then again, the production sounds very much like a product of its time and, as with Metallica’s commercial behemoth the preceding year, sucks a lot of the edge out of the sound, leaving some horribly dry and boring riffs in ‘So Many Lies’ and ‘Troubled Dreams’.

All the same, where I found copious problems enjoying Metallica, The Ritual isn’t a musically poor album, although that’s not to say that 55 minutes pass without issue. In the first place, this release has a driving quality to some of the songs that still makes it feel exciting as ‘Let Go of My World’ and ‘Agony’ push hard into hooky verses and some memorable riffing that Billy supports with his capacious rough melodicism. Perhaps half of the songs enjoy this kind of momentum, while others play with atmosphere to more or less success. The title track certainly makes the most of its creepy ringing notes and the ambience in Billy’s voice is convincing, as are Skolnick’s smattering of leads, even if the whole goes on a bit long. The same could be said of the other girthier songs, which don’t go through as many shifts in tempo or song structure as one would hope from six numbers that head over five minutes. In fact, ‘The Ritual’ and ‘Return to Serenity’ get away with it the best, since there are more ups and downs from soft verses to grand choruses to keep interest high from start to finish.

What all this means in principle is that Testament made a decent album with The Ritual that probably deserved more commercial attention than it received, especially considering the hype afforded to other, inferior, mainstream crossovers. It doesn’t quite have the variety or creativity of Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction, nor the overt dalliance with stadium appeal featured on Metallica’s gamechanger, but instead throws some titbits to old fans in the form of the upbeat ‘Electric Crown’ and ‘Agony’, while also using the band’s lead guitar to its full extent instead of mere ornamentation on heavy rock songs. Claims of artistic credibility are thus possible to make on the strength of the better songs, though there is still excess material to be cut (at least one song – probably ‘Troubled Dreams’ – and about a minute each off the longer ones) and some riffing to be tightened up, as well as that dissatisfactory production to contend with. In the end, this is a decent effort with enough to appeal to most Testament fans and other audiences too.

In the name of "or" - 70%

Felix 1666, March 20th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1992, CD, Atlantic Records (US)

Do you agree that Testament are great songwriters? Or do you agree that Testament compose lame and meaningless tracks? Well, beware of traps. The inconspicuous word "or" can lead you astray. The truth is that people who see things correctly (me, for example...) agree with both statements. Or - this word again! - they have another opinion. It doesn't matter.

However, "The Ritual" is prone to lameness. High speed attacks do not appear, the band prefers the velocity of an 80 year old grandpa who needs a walker. Adding insult to injury, the mix of the album avoids edges and corners. The songs are as smooth as freshly pressed laundry. Nevertheless, the production achieves a solid level of power and volume. And, by the way, I guess nobody expected an underground sound.

"The Ritual" is another album that possesses some fascinating tunes at the beginning, while the quality of the songs crumbles significantly as the album progresses. The demarcation line runs between the highly atmospheric title track and "Deadline". The only exception is constituted by "Agony", a powerful, more or less combative thrasher which is placed on the eighth position. Its chorus keeps sticking in the mind and the other highlights do not overburden the listener as well. The anthemic chorus of the stomping "Electric Crown" crowns a song with a flashy riff at the beginning and an outstanding flow. Testament have almost always outstanding openers, but it seems as if they are not able to put ten first-class songs on an album. Usually, they exhaust their resources relatively quickly. Thus, let's celebrate the good songs of "The Ritual" all the more.

The thick riffing of "So Many Lies" has its charm and the chorus presents another example for their talent to pen a sustainable, strong melody that enters the listener's long-term memory without hesitation. More or less the same applies for "Let Go Off My World" which moves less cumbersome than its predecessor. Finally, I have already mentioned the title track. Its gloomy mood liaises with great, robust riffs and the lyrics match perfectly with the musical content. Its guitar solo is unfortunately weak, but the remaining parts create really impressive sounds. The audience almost becomes a part of this diabolic ritual.

So far, so good, but the further tracks deliver nothing but uninspired riffs, half-baked melodies and the total absence of dedication. A kitschy ballad, of course, must be integrated. "Return to Serenity" works better than any sleeping pill one can buy in the next pharmacy. Okay, medicine usually tastes bitter and this piece sounds saccharine, but who cares about this little difference? This sedative aside, the other songs follow the route of the better tracks in terms of style, but they do not really convince ("As the Seasons Grey") or they fall completely through the net ("Troubled Dreams") and the never changing mid-tempo does not only endanger any kind of dynamic. It also appears as an indicator for the fact that the band is running steadily out of ideas. A last alternative: you want to have the complete discography of Testament on your shelf? Buy this album. Or - this word is the star of this review - do you want to listen to thrash metal without abrasion? Buy the works of In Malice's Wake, JT Ripper, Mortal Strike, Pripjat, Ragehammer, Skeleton Pit and roughly 200 further albums.

Bad Idea - 40%

StainedClass95, July 31st, 2014

This is a pretty lousy album. Compared to their first four, this is baffling in its lousiness. There is one great song, a couple of listenable songs, and so many boring songs. The band members themselves are mostly on task, though a couple of areas slide somewhat.

Compared to their rivals, Testament wasn't super varied or excellent in their riffing. This is far worse than previously. The ballads and more almost-ballad songs all seem to work on a variation of the same riff. This riff isn't very good to begin with, so it ages on you pretty quickly. There have been quite a few bands make good use of the slower thrash formula. Hallow's Eve was fairly mid-paced, yet they were also pretty enjoyable. This really isn't anywhere near this. Also, this is slower on the whole than was usual, even for slower thrash. This is actually somewhat difficult to distinguish between the ballads and the almost-ballads. This adds to the monotony that the riffing creates.

Chuck Billy is a great thrash vocalist. He just doesn't do a great job on here. For the most part, he's singing in the same style for almost every style. To start with, it wasn't his best vocal styling. I'm not a big fan of his ballad voice, and hearing it for the majority of a fifty-five minute stretch is very boring. On the few moments where the music gains a little steam, he is great again. He does have a very good aggressive voice, but he doesn't get to use it very often on this album.

The one song where neither of these two are a problem is Electric Crown. It is a great song, probably one of the ten or so best songs this band has had. The riff is actually pretty good and Chuck's vocals work great on this song. As to the listenable, Seasons Grey and Agony are okay. None of these three are particularly good, but they don't fail as miserably as the rest of these songs. Pretty much everything else really does fail, as boring as this band could make it.

The rest of band does an okay job. The soloing is still great, but it just can't fix the major problems found throughout this album. Skolnick left after this album. If it had been for as awful as this was, I would understand completely. Apparently, he wanted them to change their style completely to more of a pop direction. I don't really see how he thought that would be a good idea, as I don't believe Testament would have worked in a more pop area. The rhythm section was alright on this album, but nothing special. The bass doesn't have his usual moments, but often he's hard to hear on their albums anyways. The drumming is pretty standard, but I'm not very bothered by that. At this speed, drumming isn't usually very noteworthy.

This is just an awful listen. There's five and a half great minutes, ten and a half minutes of tolerable, and thirty-nine and a half minutes of just miserable to get through. This got them higher on the charts, good for them. I don't really know who this would appeal to, as this is pretty boring by a thrash or early metal standard. I don't even see why a Testament fan would want this. I would recommend a fan of either of those two sub-genres to rip Electric Crown, and forget the rest.

Don't just listen to it. FEEL it. - 95%

autothrall, September 7th, 2012

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.


At times amazing, at times dragging - 78%

JamesIII, August 30th, 2010

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 Ritual Of Metal - 100%

Tlacaxipehualiztli, May 14th, 2010

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…

5 decent songs and some generic nineties crap. - 55%

morbert, October 10th, 2007

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.

Middle of the Road Metal. - 67%

hells_unicorn, April 8th, 2007

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.

Pretty bad - 46%

Mungo, March 18th, 2007

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.

can a lead guitar player save an album...YES! - 90%

overkill67, August 14th, 2006

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.