“And it was on the eighth day of the year known by the Roman calendar as two thousand and sixteen that the great Lord Lucifer opened the dams and let forth the great, bloody deluge of the death metal. And lo did it swamp and suffocate all in its path. And the inferior and false bowed down, prostrate with their heads buried. For they could not withstand His power and the power of his music. And there, upon a great slab was the knight laid by the Priests of Darkness. Those who serve His Holiness. And lo, the people wept.” – Sefer Yetzirah 18:666
The debut LP from France’s Ritualization is a surprisingly generic work for its country of origin. Often known for the more odd and avant garde black metal, France also produces some of the more rote, formulaic death metal. In this case, death metal with more than just a touch of black. Consider the putrefaction of bands like Blasphemy or Angelcorpse with the histrionics of Incantation (particularly Vanquished in Vengeance) or Morbid Angel. That’s pretty much a formula not only for guaranteed palatability but for the compositional limitations of Ritualization. That’s not to say that Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss is not a completely enjoyable record that you can spin over and over.
The main formula for mixing styles is handled through pace changes. For example, “Heretics” begins in a murky blaze of fury as guitars whirl in contradictory patterns before harshing the mellow and picking up the pace to a blazing fervor outfitted with blast beats and staccato, rhythmic vocals. After a sort of bridge featuring drums and vocals as the marching leaders the track uses a secondary bridge with a more traditional, straightforward kick-snare beat, that allows the track to implode on itself revealing more angular carving by the duo of guitars. The openness of the melody allowing for a more diverse, harsh and morbid performance on the vocals. There is even a guitar solo full of arpeggiated tapping and an eventual whine.
A note of critique that applies not only to Ritualization but to many, many bands that add filler to their albums: Bookending Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss are an intro and outro. The latter featuring heavy use of keyboards and synths to accompany drums recorded to sound as if played on actual skin mimicking the approaching thunderous footsteps of a balrog. The former featuring chanting voices filtered through layers upon layers of effects and thus sounding muffled, almost anguished in their attempt to break out. The issue with tracks like these, although minimal, is that they do nothing for the album itself. They don’t present recurring themes or in any way link themselves to the material contained within. They are merely there.
The album recovers from such filler through standouts like the Suffocation-influenced soloing with their whammy-dives and bends and spiraling, quickly delivered notes. Perhaps “Last Rites to the Damned” best presents this. But it’s successor, “Genesis to Your Curse,” might provide the most appealing selection from Ritualization’s catalog. Aggressive and implacable, that track carries on at a dizzying speed while never losing sight of the goal: a release of the tension. Thus, the rhythm changes, the guitars in harmony rather than discontent, provide the album’s best moment for a bang or two.
Perhaps we are spoiled. Perhaps the absolutely enthusiastically pursued genius in death metal right now is some sort of rebirth of the golden age of the genre. Perhaps we should not take things like Ritualization for granted. It’s albums like these that take what we love about the first golden age of death metal and merely mix and match to make new creations. Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss is a good album. It’s about as solid as blackened death metal gets these days while incorporating riffs upon riffs upon aggression. So, rather than take it for granted, and look for flaws, let’s appreciate this deluge of quality, solid death metal. It is a good congregation that, when presented with quality, simply lays back, hands calmly placed palms down against thighs and bangs their head.