Metal’s busiest musician, Cederick Forsberg, is back with the 5th Rocka Rollas release in as many years. Despite being a relatively straight forward speed metal band, their sound has changed quite a bit over the years. From the very raw debut, to the more refined “Conquer” and “Metal Strikes Back”, the band unleashed an unhinged sound that left nothing back on “The Road To Destruction”. This change was largely driven by Ced taking over on vocals, as his singing is wild and off the wall. “Pagan Ritual” shows Ced continuing to sing, but another change for the band. Now Rocka Rollas is beginning to incorporate some more epic sounds into their music. This had been hinted at in the past with songs like “Conquer” and “Swords Raised In Victory”, but is now more developed on “Pagan Ritual”.
The first example of this epic style is the song lengths and structure. Most tracks on this album reach or exceed 5 minutes, and are not the standard verse/chorus. The songs still have choruses, but they aren’t as predictable as you might expect from the band’s previous work. Another way the band tries to be more epic is through clean interludes and unique, almost Celtic melodies (“Gaulic Boare” pulls off both at the same time). The shredding solos that once dominated the band’s sound have been dialed back, both in intensity and frequency. They’re still there, but you certainly won’t hear a song with 4 solos in a row on “Pagan Ritual”.
It would be an exaggeration to say that this change is a drastic one. Rocka Rollas is still focused around killer melodies and riffs. “The Punic Wars”, as one example, has a harmonized lead towards the end of the track that can contend with anything Maiden has done. “Lost In An Enchanted Forest” is the song with the best guitar acrobatics, as Ced and second guitar player Emil unleash some furious fretwork. There is a melody in the second half of the song that is reminiscent of Autopsy’s “Thorns and Ashes”, which later bursts into a tremolo-picked version of the same melody that is far more potent.
The less structured approach to songwriting means that this is the least memorable Rocka Rollas record. There are still obvious hits: “Viking Lord” will be stuck in your head for days from even just a single listen. The opening of “Pagan Ritual” manages to make drums catchy using just a crash/china cymbal. These are just two examples, but there are quite a few on this record. Overall though, not every song manages to make an impact immediately. Or even after numerous listens for that matter. This isn’t to say these songs are bad; in fact, they sound pretty much like the others. They just lack those big choruses that are easy to grasp. “Demigod”, for example, remains a mystery to me after 10 or so spins.
On the whole, “Pagan Ritual” is still the most interesting Rocka Rollas album to date. For a band that puts something out every single year, they manage to switch up the formula often enough that it never gets boring. This album is also a major step forward in making Rocka Rollas a distinct project from another band of Ced’s, Breitenhold. It may seem like I’m being overly harsh, but this is just the result of holding Rocka Rollas to an absurdly high standard. This album is fantastic and crushes most other speed metal bands, but it is the weakest Rocka Rollas album to date aside from the debut.
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"The Punic Wars"
4.5/5 or 90%.
Written by Scott