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A Ritual in Fire and Hiss - 91%

sunn_bleach, November 24th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, Independent

Wisdom of the Few ups the ritualistic ante, being one of the least-conventional releases in this least-conventional band's discography. Ride for Revenge (RfR) infuses black metal, doom metal, and noise - and in here, the three are so strongly intertwined as to be inseparable.

In contrast to the mid-fi, bass-heavy production of previous LP The King of Snakes (which RfR would never use again), Wisdom of the Few" has everything of a lo-fi black metal release through tenor-heavy production, a layer of static and hiss on every channel, and dungeon-esque interludes. The closest parallel I've found to this particular release is the Frigus Ex Tenebris Venit demo by Lithuanian black metal group Valefar, which had a similar extremely low-fidelity approach to ritualism.

The album opens with a strange, noise-influenced, wonky guitar lick - setting the stage for the introductory song that pretty much appears on every other RfR LP. This bothered me on my first listen; I loved the bassy production on The King of Snakes and at first strongly disliked this album for completely changing that in favor of what I initially interpreted as "low quality" instead of just "low fidelity". But hold that thought - there's a lot to unpack in Wisdom of the Few that a different fidelity or aesthetic wouldn't have worked with. "Dungeons of Original Sin" and "The Key of Knowledge" feature multi-tracked, layered screams that phase in and out of the mix in a way that's pretty damn shocking and any other band would've used as a gimmick. There's also long, pseudo-ambient passages in the midst of "No Savior No Return" and "Morning Won't Bring a Twinkling Star", emphasizing the slight creepiness - and of course the ending drone.

The drumming is amazing: whereas the first album was skeletal in all ways, here it's a lot more... constant. Like a pseudo-militaristic beat that foretells approaching doom. That restraint is an important part of the groove and grind of each song. The tracks "Wisdom of the Few" and "No Savior No Return" are the best examples - the drums have a sinewy, flow advances continuously with a slightly-above-moderate tempo. It's breezy, even - something so light and ceremonial that acts as a through-line between tracks, making Wisdom of the Few a cohesive album instead of a collection of songs recorded at the same time.

This album is my favorite in RfR's catalogue, and it's the best example of this reverent, magickal style of black metal with a firm ideological bent. RfR is one of the few bands for which it could be said that the music is the medium for a message about self-actualization and great-man leadership rather than just being a curious exploration of the theme - something that would be emphasized on follow-up Under the Eye.

Originally posted to RateYourMusic. Edited for Metal Archives.