Austrian band Ryte spent one-and-a-half-years writing their debut album which, according to the press release from Heavy Psych Sounds, “pushes the boundaries of Psych Rock as it is influenced by Doom, Prog Rock, Jazz and even World Music.” Sounds promising, but the cover art, an image of a mammoth above a pyramid in a cosmic swamp surrounded by a haze of literal mushroom clouds, and song titles like Raging Mammoth and Shaking Pyramid, suggest some sort of uninspired generic stoner business.
If it wasn’t for the press release, I’d be expecting a bit of space cadet jamming awash with guitar effects, maybe some synths, everything ‘verbed out, and possibly some wailing vocals drenched in delay. The slight lyrics (there’s only a couple of moments of vocals on the whole album) feature lines about space invaders while the end of the album is accompanied by pinball synth sounds.
All of this suggests that Ryte are aiming for a familiar psychedelic cosmic drug-assisted mystical vibe, but, as the press release describes, the music doesn’t fit that mould, and so it ends up feeling like a lacklustre attempt to give things a relatable context. It’s like the band spent almost 18 months crafting the music and then the last week thinking about how to present it.
That probably reads like harsh or unreasonable criticism, but for me, it was something of a barrier from the off. However, I was aware of that feeling from first listen and I didn’t feel it was very fair to the band. I decided to wait and spend some extra time with the album, trying to get past my associations and tap into what Ryte were actually doing rather than what they might be trying to do.
The first thing that struck me about the sound is that the bass and effects are actually quite subdued, both in the mix and with the song writing. This means that rather than be buried in a heavy wash, the music is in your face and rocking. There’s definitely a thread of the Psychedelic running throughout the album, but the sound is clear and the playing is clean. The first few minutes of the opening song, Raging Mammoth, are in familiar Psych territory, but then the band break away and never really return. There’s no bluffing or hiding behind effects, no drowning out the chops. Ryte can really play, and these songs are alive and kicking, full of energy and guts.
I wasn’t really led to contemplate the inner self or transported somewhere far out, as much as I was struck by the mournful atmospheres, soulful guitar playing, and the earthiness of the drumming. The songs are based around melody and storytelling and the result is more great Rock ‘n’ Roll rather than mind expansion. That’s not to say that the song writing is straightforward, the structures do have a progressive jazzy feel, and there are regular intervals that are more mellow, complex, or exploratory, but there’s always the song and a melody present – as well as a rocking riff around the corner!
That live-sounding rocking core gives a natural flow that leads from riff to riff to constantly well phrased leads, smooth transitions and well-timed, well-judged excursions and breaks taking in different sounds and vibes that all work cohesively. That reads like there could be too much going on, but as I say, these are very much songs.
There’s a lot of heart to be found among the sophisticated playing and there are a lot of moments that are surprisingly moving…
Subsequently, I found myself often feeling like they were the perfect vessel for voice, especially when the band are hammering out those killer riffs. I kept hearing room for Classic Rock vocal harmonies and John Laughton in his prime wailing tales of woe. The release isn’t entirely instrumental, but it may as well be, and while I did find myself imagining vocals over much of it, especially for the first couple of listens, I stuck with it and that feeling became less prevalent. Now, when things dial down in the middle of Shaking Pyramid I start to really enjoy the lack of vocals – just before they kick in for the first time. Sounding a bit like a nasal Al Cisneros, they’re gone before they really register or add much, and it seems an odd choice to include them at all.
Monolith has an extended sojourn that best displays that world music influence, sounding vaguely eastern, but Ryte never stray far from a rocking momentum. And that’s not a criticism. The end result is something that keeps you gripped and holding on, but as I hear it, this is less about atmosphere and more about great song writing. Halfway through Monolith I’m convinced that there’s more Classic 70s Rock to this album than 60s Psych or 00s Doom. The guitar playing is often beautiful. With the bass swaying in the background, drums carrying the rhythm, I’m getting Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy from the leads. There’s a lot of heart to be found among the sophisticated playing and there are a lot of moments that are surprisingly moving.
Final track Invaders has great doom riffs to start, but again, things are brought down to a mournful place, and that melodic and wistful sensibility can’t be subdued by the extra fuzz or the sore-thumb vocals and lyrics.
Psych Rock, as I understand it, is exploring new worlds of consciousness through traditional Rock roots aided by a palette of effects within the spirit of creativity in sound. Acid trips in worlds of noise. Spaced out, far out, heavy – as pioneered by Floyd, Pretty Things, 13th Floor Elevators, etc. And Ryte are obviously associating themselves with those roots while nodding to the psychedelic stylings of more contemporary Doom and bringing in hints of Jazz, Prog, and more. They’re trying to take it someplace new, and they do!
But everything that isn’t the music works against that in my opinion. If I ignore the artwork, song titles, vocals, and lyrics, I hear something exciting and special that’s also well-crafted and elegant. The feeling I can’t shake is that the music deserves better than the rest of it, and unfortunately those other things do the album a disservice. There are moments on here I absolutely love: utterly killer riffs, soulful leads, bluesy harmonies, and some really unique song writing with breaks and sounds that take in a wide range of influences without it sounding random. It’s rare to find such accomplished writing with a debut.
Unfortunately, on the whole it feels, to me, like the band got four brilliant songs together, then assigned them a generic aesthetic that resides somewhere completely different. It feels a bit like an afterthought rather than it was written from the ground up as an interstellar exploration. I could be completely wrong, and I’m sure it’s easy enough for most people to ignore song titles and art and just focus on the music, but on the whole this doesn’t work for me quite as well as it should. I’d rather they had a special vocal to match and a lot more of it, or if it was just completely instrumental with a different reach and association than the tired old ‘psychedelic’ imagery. I just can’t listen to it without hearing a lot of missed opportunity for things to connect. But this is just me. I can’t stress enough that Ryte is a really great band, and the music on here is awesome.
If the things that bothered me are unlikely to bother you, chances are you’ll absolutely love this.
Scribed by: Josuph Price