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Sporting one of the coolest logos around, California's Ritual sure are a curious lot. Still active, the band began putting out demos as early as 1993 and thus were contemporaries of other early USBM pioneers such as Judas Iscariot and Profanatica. After a string of releases in the mid-90's, the band went dormant, only resurfacing two years ago to release a new album of material after thirteen years of silence. Curiouser still, main man Ian Fleming seems like the type of guy who'd have a billion demo bands and live appearances in other acts, but oddly this seems to be his only musical endeavor. Unfortunately for me I haven't had the chance to hear any of their later material but I'm incredibly intrigued as the music on this debut is quite the find.
What we have here is fairly raw, almost primitive (but far from thuggish) black metal, played at a head-nodding mid-pace with just enough thrash and slight hints of Scandinavian-style death metal to lend some weight to the band's really charming approach to black metal. After a brief intro, featuring some nice synths and an introduction to the band's meaty guitar tone, we're launched into perhaps the worst track on the album, "Pagan Warfare." Maybe it's just a particular pet peeve of mine getting in the way, but the doubled vocal technique (where one vocalist employs a higher black metal rasp while the other belches out the same lines with a death metal grunt) is used throughout this entire track. While I dislike the technique in general, it's especially egregious here because the cartoonish "demonic" atmosphere produced by this technique actually stands in the way of the song's occult atmosphere. The track is also only slightly representative of the band's general musical style, with their signature melodic passages interspersed with straightforward Slayer-ish thrash bits that aren't used elsewhere on the album.
"Pagan Warfare" then gives way to a more proper introduction to what you'll hear on the rest of the album, "In the Forest." Throughout this track, you get to hear Fleming's vocals stand on their own. They somewhat recall Ihsahn's harsh vocals in early Emperor, floating up above the mix with a nice touch of reverb. The track also showcases the musical style present throughout the rest of the album: simple, crunchy guitar riffs, almost always powerchord based, veering between mid-paced palm-muted chord progressions, hazy, tremolo-picked powerchords and slower, swirling melodic parts. During this last type of passage in particular you'll get to experience the bands superior sense of melodicism, with the rhythm guitar laying out the foundation for melancholy leads. It sort of recalls Necrophobic or Algol, but with the death metal aggression dialed back a notch or two and with guitar leads that aren't necessarily tied to the rhythmic groove but rather allowed to breathe out beyond the riffs that accompany them. The closest comparison I can think of is Australia's Innsmouth, though again Ritual are decidedly more on the black metal side of the fence.
Here and there you'll come across a black metal release where the ambient/acoustic/synth intros or interludes are particularly noteworthy. "The Summoning" is just such a release, with a fairly lengthy synth track called "Journey into the Frozen Wasteland" dividing the album's sides. Utilizing a number of synth lines that recall the beauty and grandeur of Burzum tracks like "Han Som Reiste" and "Tomhet", you'll also hear some simplistic pounding programmed drums that foreshadow Summoning's later works to a degree. These keys will make a triumphant return in the middle section of the brilliant album-closing track "Dark Cathedrals."
The production is pretty fantastic and perfectly fits the songs on "The Summoning". Everything has lots of breathing room in the mix, with the two guitars clearly separated in stereo so that you can appreciate their interplay during the lead sections. The punchy bass is mixed to the center and occupies a much different tonal space than the guitars, so its simplistic timekeeping can be forgiven to a large degree just because its presence in the mix is so appreciated. Drums are something of a sore spot; they're programmed and if you focus on them too closely you'll start to notice how grating drum machine cymbals can get after a while. They mostly just keep time, with simple rock beats, thrash beats, double bass or slow-ish blasting where appropriate, so they're not too intrusive or distracting. The actual drum samples utilized are good enough, anyway. The guitar tone is suitably crunchy and mid-heavy, equally effective for muted chugging sections and aching lead lines.
If you can appreciate simple, catchy riffs, equally simple but effective songwriting and a strong sense of melodicism, you can't really go wrong with this. Sure, most songs only have a handful of riffs, but since they range from nice headbangers to majestic, haunted melodies you can't really find anything to fault. The songs that make up "The Summoning" are almost universally strong from front to back and if the band had opted out of the out-of-place backing death grunts and employed a capable live drummer, we'd have what I'd go so far as to call a timeless masterpiece. As it stands, it's still a very compelling listen and highly recommended for fans of 90's black metal that puts more stock in riffsmanship and soul-scouring melodicism than punishing brutality.
This is a band from the US, one of many beginning bands in the up rise of USBM at the time, who is often left in the dust. Ritual suffered from poor early days, mistaken for the typical “raw black metal” that got no recognition whatsoever. However, around the year of 1995, the band had released their debut album, “In The Forests”. Claimed to be a classic in the underground black metal scene, I checked it out finally.
Classic, indeed. The first two songs can compared to an earlier Pagan corpse-painted Behemoth album, “…And The Forests Dream Eternally”, but the production seems to be a bit clearer and distorted, and the vocals are even better. Groovy, catchy, and dark all while keeping the typical black metal sound, Ritual seems to be doing a good job at writing some great black metal. The songwriting is astounding; somewhat repetitive, but second guitars playing some with haunting, yet soothing, keyboard laden backings is often throughout this release. Not to say that’s a bad thing. The vocals here range from demonic death growls to piercing tortured shrieks, and vary often so it’s interesting and not so monotonous; something that a lot of black is infamously known for.
When listening to this album, you will notice the great transitions between the slower melodic interludes and up tempo black metal riffing, and how the band refrains from using and unnecessary repeats, making way for a very pleasant listen. Even with the drums, which are programmed, stay interesting, though simple and triggered. Production is too much of a plus, as the guitar tone is very touchy with the distortion, but not overdone, and bass is quite audible, adding to the atmosphere of “In The Forest”.
What I enjoy most about this album, however, is how well executed and emotional it is. This is black metal with riffing that can portray melancholy, capture evil and hatred, whilst reminiscing of Pagan beauty. Superb beyond any doubt. A very memorable album, with some extraordinary moments in atmospheric black metal. Mind you, this is 1995. This is definitely a classic, as I’ve heard many times before. I wouldn’t go far as saying this band is perfect, but it ranks pretty high up there.