The entire metal universe might still be suffering from whiplash after Blood Incantation’s vaunted old school technical death metal album Starspawn released earlier this year. I praised this album exuberantly and declared it a shoe-in for my top ten end of year list for metal albums in 2016. But enter Blasphemer’s Ritual Theophagy and memories of tech death’s yesteryear come back like a bullet aiming for my cranium. Similar to the way Iniquity’s Five Across the Eyes once did for me back in high school, Ritual Theophagy merges old school tech death with modern ideological death metal.
Some brutal death metal here, some Morbid Angel there, and voila — Blasphemer makes this rare hybrid style new again. Few bands can pull off Blood Incantation’s very original style, and even fewer artists typify the amalgamated approach of Iniquity. But then, I can hear a touch of Monstrosity’s Millenium in Blasphemer’s sound as well, and for those fans who have never heard that album, or Iniquity or Pyrexia’s early days in the tech death compendium, this band might be somewhat lost as far as approach is concerned.
Truly, some of the riffs on Ritual Theophagy sound like Blood Oath era Suffocation but in other instances the band have a distinct groove much like Morbid Angel did on Altars of Madness. Brutal death metal style guitar squeals add distinction to the sound, and while Ritual Theophagy might slightly underwhelm some fans in direct comparison to Iniquity’s landmark album they more than get the job done in the context of this album.
Blasphemer’s style will barely register as technical death metal for some listeners. And for old school fans and worshippers of revered tech death legends Demilich and Nocturnus, Blasphemer’s sound can’t possibly come close to the technical brilliance of albums like Nespithe and The Key. But to be fair, this band aren’t trying to replicate that style at all. Their sound on Ritual Theophagy is much simpler. It features more groove and brutal death metal than any of the aforementioned bands. Ritual Theophagy is much more accessible — progressive even — in the same way Immolation uses slower stop and go riffs and then, technically challenging in the way Suffocation plays brutal death metal. Most of these types of bands owe a debt of gratitude to Suffocation’s early albums but Blasphemer don’t try to pay tribute to them or any other for that matter. They play this style in their own way, far removed from the heyday of albums like Souls to Deny and Blood Oath.
Ritual Theophagy barely slows down throughout it’s runtime. Their galloping rhythms are tempered with chugging breakdowns that never overstay their welcome. The vocals are the unintelligible growl variety with roars punctuating each segment before the band moves on to the next transition. The double bass kicks can be heard very clearly. Blasphemer plays with incessant energy and Ritual Theophagy should be an earful to experience live.
Worthy of mention as well is Blasphemer’s use of spoken word samples. Some samples add tongue-in-cheek humor to the songs, and it becomes obvious that Blasphemer don’t aim to take themselves too seriously. There are no triggered drums here and the furious fill-ins will inspire some air drumming, just like the riffs will also inspire plenty of air guitar geekery. Ritual Theophagy is the best old school brutal death metal album I’ve heard since Iniquity and Suffocation’s heydays, so have a listen at this album and let the heads roll!
– Al Necro