There’s few emotions rawer than rage. It’s an easy emotion to relate to—how often have some of us broken down against some misfortune or against someone who crossed all the wrong wires at the perfectly wrong times? Of course, most of us bury it and move on with our lives, since respect rarely follows bloodshot eyes and swollen veins.
It’s also perennial favorite emotion for bands to tap into—how many rituals are there in the world that take pride in those same bloodshot eyes and swollen veins? We look onto these bands, captivated by the frantic voice that can channel something so often repressed while also disgusted for the same reasons. For some of us, that raw channel is something we almost need to hear; it’s the primal voice that we’re always too shy to finally unleash.
But even then, we understand those emotions are more nuanced than simple rage. There’s a sense of sadness or concern usually buried within. Sometimes there’s despair dragging alongside it. Sometimes there’s relief born from letting it out. Shame. Catharsis. Never, in any of our hearts, is rage ever a lone emotion, which is something Ritual seems to have forgotten in its monument to humanity’s most primal expression.
Ritual, the self-titled debut, is rage incarnate. Singer Matt Tobin spits his commands and decrees into the microphone, veins bursting with each declaration. Guitars pulverize the air around him and a drum snaps in the background. Everything about it bleeds some pulsating fury, complete with curdled, lung-busting growls and some manic sense of rhythm. The guitars shuffle their riffs with no adherence to order: imagine someone smashing Black Flags’ My War against a brick wall and throwing together a few serrated shards.
But for something so fierce and seemingly unbridled, Ritual doesn’t really say anything. It screams things, that’s for sure, but there’s nothing between the jagged riffs and bellowed damnations. They try for dynamics, between the thousand-and-one guitar riffs that punch Tobin’s salivating pontification and spliced audio here and there, but everything falls under the same monotonous indignation. Tobin screams, a guitar riff explodes, another scream, a new guitar riff explodes, and so on. More brilliant moments, like the slowed finale to “Grim Part II,” are sparse, with everything else sounding like a sprint to some finish line.
This would be fine if there was anything else propelling these songs forward. Comparatively aggressive albums that immediately jump to mind, like last year’s Full of Hell & Merzbow and Black Flag’s My War, dwell on that same aggression, but never let it fully embody that album. Full of Hell & Merzbow is a series of sprints that devolve between the lines. My War spans epics of that same righteous anger, but does it with a sense of progression and degression that fills ears with a pulsating hum that’s angry and desperate, but also contemplative and meditative.
Meanwhile, Ritual explodes and grinds, but never goes deeper than Topin’s threats to kick someone’s head into the dirt or the few riffs to accompany it. Topin sounds like he has a source for all of that unbridled rage, and the band in the background isn’t exactly short on energy or material. Anger is maybe the most potent fuel for a band thriving on jackhammers like Topin’s voice and that onslaught of guitars. But there’s always a story to it, always a personality beyond the anger—something that Ritual overlooked in its seething monotony.