Full album stream: NUM SKULL – Ritually Abused – reissue
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This record is perfect and then some. A proper score would be 103. The only album so awesome in my ears it gets extra credit.
When people are talking about the most underrated albums ever, usually they still pick albums that, while maybe truly underrated, are still cornerstones in the collections of tens of thousands of metal fans. I know Coroner is often underrated, but no one doesn’t know who you’re talking about. Num Skull is underrated in that you may have missed them completely – which makes this particular album the most underrated of all time in my mind, because it’s really that amazing. Side by side, I’ll take this over Reign In Blood, Seven Churches, Leprosy…any of them. Num Skull were victims of their locale and an industry which had no idea what to do with them.
I was about 12 or 13 living in Southeastern Wisconsin and there was a ball field my friends and I would play on every day. One day, in a garage right next to that field, the loudest and scariest racket EVER shot out like World War III was waging in a two-car garage. It terrified us all. It was Num Skull, rehearsing sometime around the time they made their Nums the Word demo (1985). Being kids who only knew metal as Twisted Sister and Ratt and the like, we couldn’t make heads or tails ouf of any of it. But, here, more than 25 years later, I recognize that first Num Skull experience as one of the most important happenings of my existence. I saw my first Mercyful Fate, S.O.D. and Exodus LPs in that garage because we started nosing around in there. Something way cooler was happening in there. These guys were the real deal.
There was even a car in the driveway which spoke of this metalness to which we were totally naive. Spray painted on one door of this old Vega, was "Ozzy." Spray painted on the other door was "Marlboro." These were the kids who sat in the back of the school bus trying to steal a toke that the bus driver couldn’t catch a whiff of growing up, they gave no fuck about anything that wasn’t the heaviest shit on Earth. Metal. They lived the metal lifestyle full-on, it was party time. This was thrash in its infancy, very real and very organic bliss, when it was still scary and totally unknown …ahead of their time. When I listen to a new band, even a good one like Warbringer, I know they don’t have even a tenth of what made Num Skull as awesome as they were.
People say that Bonded By Blood would have made more of an impact had it not been delayed in release by a year, but the passage of time and the praise of millions of metalheads has allowed Bonded to achieve its rightful place in metal history. No one says Exodus is underrated. They’ve gotten their due and still tour to this day because of it. Had Ritually Abused come out in 1985/86 as it could have, it would be one of the big ones that people still talk about. And the subsequent chatter about it may have elevated it to the true godly status it also deserves.
Ritually Abused ranks alongside Morbid Saint’s debut as the heaviest and best metal ever to come out of Wisconsin (or NE Illinois, if that’s where the true Num Skull birthplace is), or the entire Midwest for that matter. Perhaps Morbid Saint would be the closest reference to what you’re hearing on this album. At any rate, it was released on Medusa, which was an obscure off-shoot of Enigma, and, even locally a store might get one copy and then never stock it again. So it came and went quickly, thoroughly lost in the pre-Internet era, and dominated by the major labels’ debuts of the Big Four, the distraction that was the Testament/Flotsam/Sacred Reich wave and so on. So when this finally arrived in 1988, it got lost in the shuffle and that is a fucking shame of grade-A proportions. This album sounds and truly FEELS evil, folks. To this day. A song like "Off With Your Head" with its blaze then mosh then blaze then mosh intro… or a song like "Rigor Mortis" which out-duels all comers with its 100 percent all-out thrash cadence only to give us a sweet mosh breakdown about halfway through and concluding with a truly vicious, vicious solo… I tell you. This will shoot to the top of your favorite records list. SO HEAR IT. It’s a sinister masterwork and although it’s clearly part of the same genre which spawned the classics I’ve mentioned, this is the only record that sounds like this one does. Peerless.
And it’s never been properly reissued, so if you gotta download it… i didn’t see anything. I have a sealed LP still which will never be opened, as well as the original cassette I wore out long ago and a semi-good CD boot that made the rounds about 15 years ago. All totally played a million times. Loud. With headphones.
What you’ll find on Ritually Abused is start-stop-on-a-dime thrash metal with the earliest leanings of infusing death metal. But, these guys played with a furor and legitimacy that even the genre’s forefathers would find impossible to replicate. And, even though albums made by Kreator and Possessed, etc. existed earlier, Num Skull were in their garage days doing precisely that same thing only faster, more raw and sinister yet more refined as individual talents. They just didn’t get that same shake at being first on the totem pole. Being a Midwestern band didn’t do them any favors and by the time this came out, some of the originality had been siphoned from it by virtue that Combat, Metal Blade and Noise and a few other labels had already devirginized us to this art form to a degree. But this band should have been right there with the known commodities from day one. Headlining OVER Slayer, etc.
As much as I would very much love to soak this review in fancy verbiage and whatnot, it deserves to be told straight up, that this record needs to be heard to be believed and appreciated. Stylistically, I always thought Num Skull were heavy on the Possessed/Exodus vibe, only the performances are more athletic, the vocals drenched in three times the battery acid, the solos were Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King flipped from 33rpm to 45rpm and more properly technical and rehearsed. There’s not a split second of this album that is not simply among the finest you’ll ever hear. It was borderline grindcore before anyone knew the term, as I’d actually say this sounds closer to a thrash/grind band like Repulsion than it did Kreator, though an album like Endless Pain was likely an influence as well. This had the mosh breakdowns along with the crushing speed, it’s really got it all. Furthermore, this punishes the entire first wave of American death metal. Some new-schoolers, missing the importance of the era, will decidedly call this one-dimensional because it’s clearly not a 2012 album. It’s old school, but it sounds as fresh to me and un-dated as any new record. It’s a valid testament to the days when you had to search for the true gems, yet all the searching in the world could matter not, because that was just the times. If it wasn’t in a fanzine or if your brother’s friends didn’t have it, you missed it. I’m sure there are other Num Skull’s out there, victims of an era where it took being on one of the coasts or being the biggest fish in a European scene to find an audience. Even though it’s been 25+ years, this can still find its place, because it’s timeless and will prove far more rewarding than even the best of the new school of thrash metal.
If this album (along with the demos that spawned it) were properly revered when it was still new, we’d be seeing them do the 25-year reunion thing and all would be right. But, that’s not happened and I wonder if Num Skull (terrible 1996 Cannibal Corpse-sounding reunion lineup aside) knows fully what original fans of this record felt at the time and most likely still feel about it. I know I’m not alone. Anyone I play this for pretty much shits their pants.
1. The End 00:16
2. Ritually Abused 04:42
3. Death and Innocence 04:59
4. No Morals 02:26
5. Friday’s Child 04:55
6. Off with Your Head 03:35
7. The Henchman 04:47
8. Pirate’s Night 04:39
9. Turn of a Screw 04:13
10. Kiss Me, Kill Me 05:02
11. Rigor Mortis
12. Murder by the Minister (bonus track) 03:38
Skip McGullam: Vocals
Rob Charrier: Bass
Jeff McGullam: Drums
Tom Brandner: Guitars
Eric Seiller: Guitars