TESTAMENT — The Ritual (review)

TESTAMENT — The Ritual album cover Album · 1992 · Thrash Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
"The Ritual" is the 5th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash/heavy metal act Testament. The album was released through Atlantic/Megaforce Records in May 1992. It´s the successor to "Souls of Black" from 1990 and it´s the last Testament release to feature the "classic" lineup of Chuck Billy (Vocals), Alex Skolnick (Lead Guitar), Eric Peterson (Rhythm Guitar), Greg Christian (Bass), and Louie Clemente (Drums).

"The Ritual" is Testament´s most commercially successful album. The musical changes that the band made resulted in a more mainstream oriented and accessible heavy metal effort, although they haven´t completely left their thrash metal roots behind. Other contemporary artists like Metallica, Overkill, and Anthrax were also toying with more accessible musical directions, so it wasn´t unusual for the time for thrash metal artists to evolve and try something new. So the change in musical direction was definitely a conscious decision. If it was a desire for commercial success or it just felt like the right time to try something new I don´t know, but my guess is probably a bit of both.

The change in musical style is audible right from opening of the album. After the short intro track "Signs of Chaos", we´re treated to "Electric Crown", which pretty much sets the tone and pace for the rest of the 11 track, 54:34 minutes long album. Melodic (though still relatively hard-edged) mid-paced heavy metal with the occasional more thrashy riff thrown in. While the four preceding album releases all have a different sound there is still a clear stylistic red thread throughout that period of Testament´s career, so listening to "The Ritual" was probably a bit of a shock to a part of the band´s regular fanbase. The power ballad "Return to Serenity" earned Testament a charting single though, so it would appear that new fans were added to the ranks. Fans who either embraced the stylistic change or didn´t know Testament´s back catalogue enough to care.

It wasn´t just the musical style which was changed between "Souls of Black (1990)" and "The Ritual". The latter features a much less heavy and hard edged sound production to its predecessor, and although there are several thrashy riffs on the album, even those parts don´t really sound much like thrash metal, because the sound production just isn´t heavy enough to bring out the thrashy aggression (examples are otherwise pretty thrashy tracks like "Let Go of My World" and "The Sermon"). "The Ritual" has other things that are interesting though, and especially the lead guitar work by Alex Skolnick is stunning. He has always been an incredible guitarist and his contributions to the preceding releases by the band are considerable, but it´s like he is more at ease with the material on "The Ritual". There is a natural tone to his performance that oozes enjoyment with what he is playing. The rest of the band are also well playing, although Louie Clemente´s drumming sounds a bit "stiff". The restraint he has to put on his playing isn´t doing anything good for the final output.

So upon conclusion "The Ritual" is a bit of the "odd one out" in Testament´s discography, and they would soon return to more thrash metal oriented material on "Low (1994)". Despite the mixed reception among fans of the band, the band did enjoy some commercial success, and in that regard "The Ritual" must be regarded as a success. To my ears the material could have been more varied and hook laden, because not enough tracks stand out and the mid-paced rhythms and lack of aggression also quickly become a bit tedious (tracks like "Deadline" and "Agony" are downright unremarkable). It is an album which wins with repeated spins though, and if you leave behind your preconceived notions of what a Testament album should sound like, "The Ritual" is actually a relatively good quality heavy metal album and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.
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