RITUAL SERVANT - Metallum Evangelii (Limited Run Vinyl)
Every once in awhile, a band comes seemingly out of nowhere and just “gets it all right.” Matt Smith/Theocracy released a fantastic debut back in 2003 – by himself no less – by laying down the power/prop metal sounds with perfection. Not only was the music totally credible, the lyrics were well-thought-out and Biblically exhorting. Now a full band, Theocracy has powered on now for nearly two decades doling out what I affectionately dub “Christ-centric” metal. Enter Ritual Servant – essentially the work of Patrick Best (vocals, guitars) and drummer Seth Boone. Add in a great producer in Brian McKenzie, a great promoter in Bill Bafford and a little help from friends like Charley Shackelford (guitars), Scott Waters (design) and Noel Puente (cover painting) and you’ve got all the elements in place for something big.
So imagine in this digital day and age hearing new music on vinyl first (before digital). Frankly, I do this with a lot of new music nowadays, but not many approach it this way, especially since so many digital singles are released in advance. But its really neat to discover music like this and for me at least, its like coming full-circle to my youth. Ahh, but I digress…
For some reason, this band was completely off my radar (maybe I live too far east or just have too much music to process on a weekly basis). So, when my first installment of Limited Run Vinyl from Roxx Records arrived this past week, I naturally spun through the two Vengeance Rising albums first because they were familiar and I had a past point of reference with which to compare the sound. Because the whole reason to grab these vinyl records, folks, is because they do sound amazing, with significant improvements over their digital counterparts. Anyway, I eventually pick up the Ritual Servant and study the jacket and cover (as I always do) and thought to myself – “this doesn’t look like the cover to a metal record!” So, thinking I would be disappointed, I put it down for another day (yep, I really did!). Remember, I had no preconceived idea about this record other than the promo information on Roxx’s website. And, I have a habit (good or bad) of ignoring pre-release hype anyway. Regardless, I had not heard anyone talk about it when it was originally released earlier this year, but came to find out later that Keven Crothers reviewed it back in April, on our own website no less! Like, how did I miss this?
“Woe Is Me” – The Metal Good News
Not only is Metallum Evangelii literally metal good news, this metal is good … well, actually “great” is a better descriptive for the perfectly balanced sounds and exceptionally well-crafted songs blasting forth from the speakers. And the cool thing here is that it was obvious from the very opening notes of “Seven Trumpets” song one on Side A! I mean, sometimes it takes a long time to appreciate some music, with many listens and in different moods/situations, etc. But less often, it just hits and when that needle drops, you just hear that locked-in sound. Those guitar tones, those vocals, that bass drum kick sound – it took me immediately to Ride The Lightening era Metallica, basically mid to late 80’s heavy metal/thrash. Overkill, Testament, Slayer, Megadeth influence all there, but mostly Metallica. In fact, the only negative would be that they may sound a bit too similar to Metallica, partly the style of course, but partly the Hetfield-like vocals, especially early Kill ‘Em All Hetfield when his voice was higher pitched and slightly acidic. Similarities to all of those bands above are fair comparisons. BUT, I don’t see this as a negative because Ritual Servant is emulating a style/era of metal, they are not copying any one band’s sound. There is a difference, because these guys have an immediate identity both musically AND, most importantly, spiritually and that was one of the revelations that struck me as soon as I heard this music.
As an aside, it has always been funny to me that Deliverance was labeled the Christian version of Metallica. That comparison was never fair, in my opinion, because D has always been more progressive, adding in some alternative and industrial styles in their mix. Ritual Servant sound more like early period Metallica than Deliverance, which again is not a negative. Again, its an incredibly credible sound – the guitars, drums and vocals perfectly placed in the mix – with thick guitar tones, classy solos, vocal bite with clarity and punching drums. At least speaking of this vinyl version, there is a ton of bass.
Every song here is excellent, but a few things stand out. “Caught In The Fire” is somewhat the antithesis to “Jump In The Fire” and has that mid 80’s thrash romp. It’s a fantastic song telling the story of the three faithful men from Daniel 3. “Dying To Self” has that monstrous, plodding riff reminiscent of so many songs from the Metallica black album. In “Ten Lepers” during intro and outro segments we get this snarly vocal clarity from Patrick Best that really is quite unorthodox, but it works.
I can’t say enough about the quality of the songwriting. They are lifting these elements and styles from the classic era of thrash yet putting the pieces together in a way that makes the songs memorable and diverse so you’ve got immediately engaging songs with enduring qualities instead of a jam-bloated mess of musical self-indulgence. And one of the things they’ve really got going for them are these very catchy chorus phrases like “for the thief comes only to STEAL – KILL – DESTROY!” in “Amongst the Wolves” or “slaves to the death” a song which reminds me a lot of the tunes on Ride The Lightning. And then there is “seek and find – COMFORT IN THE FIRE” and of course “Woe Is ME” – its all just so cool, so catchy, so memorable.
Not only are the lyrics Biblically sound, they are relevant and encouraging. There is a transparency and sincerity to the music and words that is so refreshing. Furthermore, Ritual Servant have avoided all the snares of contemporary metal – no harsh alternating with clean vocals, no endless riding on the crash cymbal that just washes out the sound, no continuous (from start to finish) double bass drum pounding. In other words, the songs have dynamics! And, there is a fluidity to the rhythm changes and to the dynamics that feels natural.
The record itself is clear with no surface noise and a nice long run-in of silence which helps compensate for stylus placement. Its annoying when you try to start a poorly manufactured record and the needles slides down the edge into the first notes of the song with a skip. So far, all of the LRV vinyl have not had that problem. The labels are clean and flat with no defects. In addition to the 180 gm weight disc and the lined black inner sleeve treatment, the album is accompanied by a thick-weight 8.5” x 11 insert with lyrics, Scripture references and credits. The only omission on the insert would be that there is no mention of who plays what instrument, but this may have been intentional as it clearly states “All Glory To God” on the insert.
So far with the Limited Run Vinyl series we’ve had re-issued classic and representative albums from the late 80's early 90’s era, but with Ritual Servant you’ve got your first “classic in the making.” Let’s hope and pray these guys are only at the beginning of their metal musical journey. Metallum Evangelii, indeed! Click HERE to get your copy before the 7 trumpets sound!
1. Seven Trumpets
2. Amongst The Wolves
3. The Sacrifice
4. Comfort In The Fire
1. Dying To Self
2. Woe Is Me
3. The Just
4. Ten Lepers