Full Of Phlegm

Mass Oblation

World's Beneath

Forced to an End

Palm Reader

ALBUM REVIEW: Ritual Violence – Armed For Apocalypse

Ten seconds. That’s all the warning you get of what ARMED FOR APOCALYPSE are about to hit you with on Ritual Violence. A swell of feedback, a hi-hat count and then the band launch into the preposterously punishing groove of opener Under My Shame. It grabs its listeners instantly and with full-force, setting out the stall for a record that absolutely refuses to let go across the 44 minutes to follow.


But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit here. Some context: Ritual Violence is the third full-length album from the Californian sludge metallers. It’s technically a long overdue follow-up to 2013’s The Road Will End, although we did get the excellent Palm Reader EP to tide us over in 2018. Clearly not a band in a hurry then, and yet whenever they do put a record out it’s impossible to deny the sheer urgency and fury with which they deliver it – as is certainly the case here. 

In perhaps one of the most obvious band-producer pairings in all of history, Ritual Violence sees ARMED FOR APOCALYPSE teamed with the inimitable Kurt Ballou. Of course, like everything the CONVERGE guitarist lends his talents to, that means this album sounds incredible. The band’s riffs are suitably thick and sludgy, the drums hit with clear and powerful force, and everything bristles and bleeds just enough at the edges to give off a raw and relatively no-frills feel. It’s through this prism that the band deliver 11 tracks of whirlwind ferocity, whistling past their listeners with a sound that marries something of the frenzy of WILL HAVEN, to the weight of CONJURER, and even to some of the hardcore savagery and swagger of a band like EVERY TIME I DIE.

It’s all certainly a team effort, but it is particularly hard not to fixate on vocalist Nate Burman. Having made his mark on the aforementioned Palm Reader EP after joining the band in 2016, Ritual Violence sees Burman pull out one of the most staggeringly feral vocal performances of the entire year. His tortured howling – and there really is no other word for it – is what gives this record arguably its most abrasive edge. In terms of sheer intensity, it’s enough to give Grady Avenell of the aforementioned WILL HAVEN a run for his money, if anything with even more bile in much of his delivery. Within this, Burman still finds ways to get some vocal hooks in, including perhaps most notably his repeated insistences of “I felt the world crash around me again” on fifth track Lifeless.

Another huge tick here is the overall structure and flow of the record. For example, after hitting listeners with two back-to-back ragers in Under My Shame and Frail, the band get a little more dynamic in third track Full Of Phlegm. There’s a quiet clean guitar break in this one, with this taking the devastating power of the band’s sludge to fresh heights – or depths – when the carnage resumes. The next three tracks actually follow a very similar pattern: two riffy ragers, one longer, more dynamic one, but the band avoid any accusations of being formulaic by nailing each and every turn they take. Elsewhere, seventh track Foredoomed features a squealing guitar solo courtesy of SEPULTURA’s Andreas Kisser before ending on arguably the album’s most undeniable groove, while Flesh And Blood’s blistering D-beats snap the listener to attention before Eternally Broken brings things to a powerfully expansive close.

Heaviness, of course, is a subjective term, but there has to be at least a few metrics by which Ritual Violence is a firm contender for the heaviest album of the year. ARMED FOR APOCALYPSE fill the skies with so much sludge and violence that there is absolutely no room for any light to break through, and yet never does this album become an exercise in endurance. That’s something only the very best bands ever manage, and it’s safe to say that the shoe fits here.