In hindsight, I wish I had more time to review everything I wanted to in 2020. Alas, there are not enough hours in the day, and I have many review drafts that are incomplete. That said, I did want to get one final 2020 album reviewed before the year comes to a close. So I present to you Ritual Earth’s debut album MMXX.
Ritual Earth, who hail from my own city of Philadelphia, describe themselves as space doom rock. It’s an apt description; their sound leans heavy psych instrumentally, but with grungy vocals akin to Kyuss.
Instrumentally, what the band offers on this debut is very intriguing as far as stoner/doom goes. The riffs are there, but so are the atmospherics. “Free From My Vessel” is a strong example of this, as a monolithic main riff is enshrouded in cosmic guitar leads. The band makes excellent use of dissonance on this track, particularly in the song’s droning intro and outro, as well as in the bridge around the 3:20 mark. The song isn’t only the sum of its peripherals though, it’s all about the journey the band takes you through between those two points.
Speaking of journeys, the band launches furthest into the cosmos on the album’s opening and closing tracks. The aptly named “Solar Ecstasy” is half shimmery psychedelics and half prog doom exploration. Both halves work well together, and the band seamlessly executes the transition between the two. “Ascension Dimension” sees the band tripling down on atmospherics. With it’s soft keyboard parts and cascading guitars, the song sounds like Pink Floyd meets Bask. It’s another excellent combination that envelopes you and causes you to lose track of the fact that the song is 12 and half minutes long, as well as the concept of time itself. I love the band’s decision to bring in keyboards and organs on this track, they play nicely with the tripped-out guitar leads. The song isn’t all just a floaty acid trip, for the band slowly turns up the grit until they reach a peak of mountainous doom riffage.
The guitar and bass tones on MMXX are both lush and crunchy, but instrumentally the star of the show is the drums. Drummer Chris Turek is an absolute powerhouse on songs like “Distress Signal”, where he lurks in the song’s softer dynamics with flammed tom patterns before going full throttle in the song’s latter half. There are also these choice fills in the last minute of “Solar Ecstasy”, which are brought back in the middle of “Ascension Dimension”. His drum fills provide the perfect amount of momentum needed for the chorus of “I am Dreadnaught”. While this isn’t one of my favorite songs on the album, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how sick that dissonant riff from 0:40 – 1:21 is!
There are a few moments where the Ritual Earth gets a bit too lost in the intergalactic void, mainly the tracks “Escape Velocity” and “Reprisal / Nebulas Diabolos”. The former feels like it’s building to something grand, but never really gets there. The latter is more successful, but still, a minute or two of the track’s runtime could have been shaved off. There are some incredible moments within “Reprisal / Nebulas Diabolos”, like the bass intro, that sweeping wah bridge, and the acoustic guitar layering. The song loses focus as it progresses onward and the band commits the unfortunate cardinal sin of using a fadeout at the end. Yes, “Ascension Dimension” also uses a fadeout, but it works much better there, whereas here it just feels inconclusive.
While I’m mostly on board with what the band is doing instrumentally, I’m just a tad more conflicted on the vocals. Singer George Chamberlin has a very powerful voice and an impressive range. His vocals are especially jaw-dropping when he hits those high tenor B’s and C’s. However, there are several instances where Chamberlin gets a bit pitchy. The main examples of this are in the key changes on “Solar Ecstasy” and the speedier parts of “Reprisal / Nebulas Diabolos”. Also, while he’s excellent at that bluesy/grungy singing style, I can’t help feeling the vocals get a bit predictable as the record goes on. More harmony parts would have helped provide contrasts between adjacent song sections, and I feel an occasional curve-ball approach (i.e. cleaner or harsher vocals) would’ve also provided helpful contrast. Despite these critiques, I think what he does in the grand scheme of the record works very well, and his voice definitely stands out from the seemingly infinite stoner/heavy psych pack. My favorite performance of his is the track “Distress Signal”. He does an excellent job of matching the band’s shift in dynamics. The chorus of “Can you help me find my way” is the most infectious earworm on the album (I mean that in a good way), as both the distressed guitar leads and the catchy vocal hooks make for an entrancing mixture.
So there it is, my last new music review of 2020. I’m looking forward to bringing you more reviews in the new year, and I’m looking forward to what Ritual Earth will be bringing to us on future albums. If you’re using this downtime between release seasons to catch up on some of those albums you missed, I’d definitely recommend putting this one in the queue!
Ritual Earth’s debut album MMXX was released on September 1st, 2020.
Best Tracks: Free From My Vessel, Ascension Dimension, Solar Ecstasy
Weakest Tracks: Escape Velocity
FFO: Kyuss, Elder, Lowrider