When you get a band named after an obscure Hawkwind EP, it’s probably a safe bet that you’ll be in for some epic progressive space rock. I’m glad to say this is exactly what Ritual Earth deliver on their debut album, mixing it up with some doom and sludge riffs to boot. Lyrically the album comes across as very spiritual in its galactic themes. The words read like a tortured soul seeking their ontological equilibrium in the outer reaches of time and space. Unfortunately, that balance which the narrator is striving for isn’t quite fulfilled in the music.
Ritual Earth are clearly a group of very talented musicians and the performances are highly accomplished throughout. The vocals are fantastic too – their singer has a voice that sits somewhere between Ian Gillan and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, but with a grungey edge. This is a highly creative album that also has the kind of heavy grooves and vocal hooks that feel familiar and enjoyable to doom fans. Too often though the band let their creativity overtake the natural force of their riffs, and the songs start to lose focus. At times there are so many guitar leads, so many pounding toms and so many rhythm changes, that it becomes a bit of a headache. I feel the band could do well by not over-thinking their ideas so much and having a bit more restraint when crafting their songs.
I find this particularly in the first section of the record, the opening two tracks Solar Ecstacy and Escape Velocity are full to the brim with wailing guitar leads, harmonising and discording in rapid succession. As quickly as the drums start to lock into the groove, they jump out of it again, throwing in massive fills on what sounds like an infinite rack of toms. It’s just about held together by the bass, but the tracks often feel like they’re on the verge of falling apart. Free From My Vessel kicks off really well with a heavy stoner riff, but again the discordant guitar leads and constant drum fills tend to distract more than they do accentuate. When the band do keep it simple and latch onto the riffs they do a fantastic job and show that it’s within them to find that point of restraint.
Things get better with Reprisal / Nebulas Diabolos which starts off quite subdued; the acoustic and electric guitars are well balanced, and the drums hit the groove in rhythmic kinship with the bass. The band slowly constructs this into a full-on prog number, complete with finger picking acoustic guitar breaks, riffs that change tempo and time-signature at will, and some fluid but emotive vocals. Towards the end we get an over the top (in a good way) guitar solo, swathed in wah-wah, delay and phaser. The band get their Crowbar on in the final third of the track with a chugging riff that they take all the way to the end before fading out slowly. This song is the first time the band have really found their mark. Previously all the elements felt like they were stumbling over each other for room, but the extended length and space allows the band’s creativity to expand and flourish more naturally.
When the band do space things out and extend their songs to a bigger capacity, they’re able to create a vessel that enables their huge volume of ideas to shine in their own light…
I Am Dreadnought is where they get things really right, the massive sludge riff has some awesome discordant nuances that take it to another level altogether. The band keep focussed on the riffs without overcomplicating things, and even in the quieter, more psychedelic, final movement nothing feels forced. The vocals are wonderful too, the high screams come off brilliantly and the whole performance has a great energy to it. Distress Signal starts off well with some echoing palm-muted guitars and flashes of King Crimson-esque jazzy melodies. There isn’t quite enough in this song to make it stand out from the rest of the record, and for the first time the vocal refrains sound a little tired and repetitive.
The final track Ascension Dimension is a slow burner that builds up with some pretty guitar chords and piano licks off-set against melodic bass-lines, a droning organ and a gradual accumulation of drums. The vocals start in the background but kick into the foreground as the tune cranks through the gears. The track continues to oscillate in pace and intensity across its twelve and a half minutes, and it’s certainly very enjoyable; but when the big release comes, I’m left feeling a little underwhelmed. I was hoping for an utterly colossal and bombastic sonic combustion, and while the innumerable guitar leads feel like they are all bursting with excitement, I don’t ever get the huge explosion I was hoping for.
Ritual Earth have boundless amounts of creativity, but they haven’t quite found the best structure to release that creativity yet; there is often too many ideas in one place and too little room for them all to breathe. When the band do space things out and extend their songs to a bigger capacity, they’re able to create a vessel that enables their huge volume of ideas to shine in their own light, rather than fight each other for time. I think this band has a bright future, and there are plenty of great moments to enjoy on this debut album. Ritual Earth will definitely benefit though from studying the art of restraint more. It’s certainly better to be overflowing with creativity than to be deficient in it; but in music, as in the universe, there needs to be balance.
Scribed by: Will J