Radically changing your sound and image can be the kiss of death for any band, but it doesn’t seem to have done In This Moment much harm. They might be largely unrecognisable from the melodic metalcore act behind the 2007 debut, Beautiful Tragedy, but Maria Brink and her boys are commanding bigger crowds than ever. So perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that their sixth album pushes them even further away from their roots.
That evolution began with 2012’s Blood, an explosive ‘fuck you’ to critics, before they wove a poppier sound on follow-up Black Widow. Ritual follows a similar stylistic path and attempts to cast a witchy spell with its occult-themed songs. The creepy instrumental opener Salvation is all thunderclaps and Satanic chanting with an undercurrent of White Zombie, but it’s got a poppier edge and comes across as a safer, more polished version of More Human Than Human. It’s not the only Zombie reference on the album either. Skip to Witching Hour, and Rob Zombie fans might recognise the Christopher Lee sample at the beginning. It’s the same one used in Dragula (it’s taken from City Of The Dead, aka Horror Hotel), but instead of segueing into an all-out industrial metal anthem, the track transmogrifies into an unexpected tribute to electro-goths She Wants Revenge.
On Black Widow, there were times when Maria sounded a little too much like Christina Aguilera, and bluesy lead single Oh Lord revisits those comparisons, which occasionally makes for uneasy listening. Then there’s the stompy Black Wedding, which starts off as a twisted showtune, before emerging into a riotous R&B-meets-rock mash-up complete with flashes of dubstep. Despite guest vocals from metal god Rob Halford and a chorus that conjures up the spirit of Billy Idol’s White Wedding, it doesn’t quite deliver the metal goods, but in a live setting with pyros and theatrics, it might be a different story.
In fact, Ritual feels like it’s been created as the soundtrack to In This Moment’s eye-popping Lady Gaga-meets-Rob Zombie live shows rather than a standalone album. It’s not difficult to imagine Maria gyrating onstage to the dark industrial pop of River Of Fire, or even to the Marilyn Manson-esque Joan Of Arc, which also borrows melody lines from some of their earlier material. Then there’s an unlikely cover of Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. It’s breathier than Nonpoint’s version, and retains that big crescendo that’s going to work beautifully in their set.
One thing that’s deliberately missing from Ritual is the sex factor. Despite Maria’s sultry vocals, lyrically there’s nothing as overt as the band’s previous two albums. Instead the tone is darker, seemingly using the occult as an edgy metaphor that contrasts with that poppier edge. Ritual is polished, maybe a little too much in places, and ultimately positions Maria Brink one step closer to becoming metal’s answer to Lady Gaga. Guaranteed to divide fans even more, this album is arguably best enjoyed with moving images from In This Moment’s theatrical live shows.