This may have been the first thrash metal album I ever bought. I was late to the mosh pit, but I think I chose a good first thrash. Lead video “Electric Crown” was in rotation on the Power 30, and I loved the speed combined with melody and a virtuoso guitarist. To me, “Electric Crown” blew away any of the Metallica singles I’d heard so far. It was way superior to the overly simplistic “Enter Sandman”.
One of the coolest sounds I ever heard came from Alex Skolnick’s guitar. In that melodic, four-note descending lick, the fourth note…just shakes. I sat there in my bedroom with my guitar, trying to make the same sound, failing every time. Skolnick was increasingly interested in jazz, and you can hear that in some of the soloing and tubey tone.
The Ritual is the most commercial Testament album. That made it an easy gateway to thrash. Did they sell out? By all accounts, The Ritual is the album on which Alex Skolnick stepped up in terms on contributions. As a schooled musician he wanted to try some different things, and indeed he left the band shortly after to grow as a player. This isn’t a sellout, but it’s the album on which the guy who was trained by Joe Satriani had a lot more influence. (After he left, the band went hard back to the extremes of thrash with Low and Demonic.)
Not a sellout, then. But there are definite parallels to the contemporary Metallica album. The slower metal chug of “So Many Lies” is this album’s “Sad But True”. The Ritual also has a modern, crisp production (by Tony Platt) though not as fully stuffed as Metallica.
Immediately after “So Many Lies”, drummer Louie Clemente goes into a gallop on “Let Go Of My World”, an angry testament to independence. See what I did there? The longest song on the album is the title track, an anti-drug anthem that rocks it slow and forboding. “Kill yourself, killing time.” Vocalist Chuck Billy has a mighty set of lungs, the kind that make you listen up. These lungs are put to great effect on “Deadline”, the mid-tempo banger that finishes side one. There’s something just slightly different about the beat and there’s nothing equivalent on the Metallica album. “Deadline” is arresting, kickin’ and menacing all at once.
“As the Seasons Grey” continues the blistering metal, not as fast as yesteryear but more measured. Dig that false ending. “Agony” and “The Sermon” offer some variety, but Testament are best when served fast. Right? Right? No – check out the ballad “Return to Serenity”! Testament were of course no strangers to ballads. “The Ballad” and “The Legacy” worked out well for them previously, but “Return to Serenity” blows them away. Alex Skolnick’s clever, echoey guitar hook is spellbinding. This incredible ballad really should have been a hit. That’s why they included it again on 1993’s Return to the Apocalyptic City EP. It should be as well known as hit ballads by another big name thrash band. The Ritual closes on a stampeding “Troubled Dreams”, an album highlight and as persistent as the wandering nomad in the lyrics.
There are more important Testament albums than The Ritual, such as their landmark Practice What You Preach. It still remains a high water mark in the catalogue.