First of all, here’s where I stand. Testament is my favorite heavy metal band, and The Ritual is one of my favorite albums of all time. Here’s why.Everything begins with a brooding “Signs of Chaos,” an eerie-sounding guitar solo, foreshadowing the things to come. It leads right into “Electric Crown,” which has an element of Metallica to it, but that’s exactly where that ends. The album continues with a heavier offering, “So Many Lies.” Going on, we encounter “Let Go Of My World,” an oddly-timed bit with an absolutely incredible guitar solo. There are quite a few surprises, up until the very end.The compositions on this release are wonderful. There may be one or two weaker songs, with some riffs keeping with trite key progressions, but these weaknesses can be overlooked without much regret.One thing that cannot be overlooked is the lead guitar work – Alex Skolnik shines on every one of the tracks with melodically complex and technically stunning solos. The highlights for me are “Agony”, where the solo reflects the song title very appropriately, and the ballad “Return To Serenity,” for which the guitar solo is long and varied, building up to its resolution – similar in compositional approach to such pieces as Scorpions’ Still Loving You and Pantera’s The Sleep.The vocals are also quite good. I’m not a fan of the later vocal styling that Testament adopted, and this is very little like it. There is a clear melody in the singing, but it has a definite growl to it, which conveys quite well the adrenaline high that the singer experiences through his music.The production quality is mediocre, but not so bad as to take away from the good elements of the record. If you play this on the most average speakers/headphones, you will be able to make out what the band’s trying to play/say. Quality may be subpar, but at least it’s consistent.And on a final note, this album is not to be compared to any of Metallica’s efforts. Metallica could only wish they had the guts to put out something like this, especially nowdays; their lead guitar, for example, does not even begin to compare. I’m amazed that people actually say that this album is inferior to Metallica’s self-titled release. Production-wise, perhaps, but definitely not musically.