St. Paul, Minnesot'as True Metal Record Store (RIP as of Dec. 24, 2015)
Thanks to Relapse Records and their devious money-making schemes, today I have the unique opportunity for the blog: to bore you with a review of a completely obscure release from the 80s as opposed to one you just don’t give a shit about. The band in question is greater Chicagoland’s NUM SKULL, and the album you’ve never heard of until now is 1988’s Ritually Abused.
Originally released on LP and cassette, my CD version from 2002 (at least according to Discogs — there’s no date anywhere on it) looks like an ad hoc bootleg rip of the LP, complete with gratuitous re-use of the cover art throughout the layout and a block-letter lyric sheet. It’s probably safe to say Ritually Abused hasn’t traded many hands in physical format, so I was apparently lucky to stumble on it at Root Cellar back around the time of the CD release (with the original price tag to prove it!).
Ritually Abused carries a hearty 98 percent rating with two reviews at Metal Archives. That means dick all other than the two chumps who downloaded it sought fit to inflate the ratings based solely on its perceived rarity. I’m also guessing that Relapse decides to pick re-releases with the obscurity sweet spot of three or fewer reviews and a rating over 95 percent. We’d be making a fortune with full access to the M-A database, you and me.
So is this another definitive case of the hunt out-thrilling the actual kill? Not quite. While far from groundbreaking, Ritually Abused is a fine representation of the thrash/death metal transition that was widespread in the US toward the end of the 80s. Think MORBID SAINT (also recently re-issued by Relapse), MALEVOLENT CREATION and other bands who took SLAYER’s architecture and melody to extremes of undisciplined intensity.
After a short intro, Ritually Abused announces itself with a furor of lesbian scissor beats so unrefined it would make Rosie O’Donnell blush. But if anything truly dates this album, or Rosie O’Donnell for that matter, it is the lack of real variation. It sure seems like a lot is going on: the riffs live in squalid hobbit hovels and poke their heads out constantly, but just in time to have a screaming solo shatter their tranquility. A strep-throated singer screams commands while a dozen sugar high ideas bounce off the walls before their bedtime. Songs occasionally come together on strength of the solid motifs, several times or more per track, but then become confused and finally apart impudently before reluctantly settling down for a long nap. The “bonus track” on my CD, “Murder by the Minister,” offers the most glaring departure on the album by serving up a MOTÖRHEAD- or VENOM-style speed metal reprieve, but the album has effectively ended by then.
None of this should be read as too critical, honestly. I try. Yes, all told, Darkness Descends or Spectrum of Death this is not. But isn’t that what the movement between thrash and death metal was all about? Chaos (or undeveloped songwriting, whatever) in thrash/speed metal truly did seem stunted and awkward before death metal figured out it took a more commanding beat to normalize everything. Released two years later, with different rhythmic emphasis, higher gravity vocals and a few other tweaks, this could have sounded phenomenal. For now, we can call it “raw” and give it the credit due. Ritually Abused is far from classic, but it is a great album for lifting riffs for your shitty band, and a nice piece of Midwestern metal history that any late-80s student, poser or stalwart, will pull out at least one time in 10 for a dose of unrestrained thrashing mayhem.
Due for re-release on Relapse Records on September 16.
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