Ritual

Valley of the Kings

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Ritual's 1983 debut album, Widow, reached such a small number of people due to inefficient distribution and even worse promotional support that those who actually managed to secure a copy probably never expected to hear from the seemingly jinxed band again. But no amount of adversity could sway Ritual's prime instigator, vocalist/guitarist Gypsy Re Bethe, from his self-appointed mission, and although it took all of ten years, 1993 finally saw the unlikely (and largely unheralded) release of the power trio's belated sophomore album, Valley of the Kings (featuring first-album bassist Phil Mason and recently acquired drummer John Gaster). Perhaps even more remarkably, Ritual's idiosyncratic extrapolations on the classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal template, which they often adorned with folk, doom, prog rock, and other more discreet and elusive inspirations, also survived relatively intact, save for a welcome improvement where production standards were concerned. OK, so these improvements could do nothing to make the material remotely palatable to commercial radio, nor disguise its many dated sonic aesthetics, but for enduring NWOBHM fans at least, standout tracks like "Kiss of the Nile," "Lady Night," and "Never Look Back" (plus another re-recording of the excellent oldie "Burning") provided nostalgic reminders of that movement's contradictory marriage of majestic metallic songwriting to punk's devil-may-care D.I.Y. mentality. And even though there were several plodding semi-ballads here that never seemed to go anywhere (e.g., "Winds of Fire," "Morning Star"), Bethe's capricious songwriting habits never lacked for surprises, whether that meant making frequent forays into acoustic reverie ("The Enchanted Princess," the coda of "Come to the Ritual," etc.), recycling the walking rhythm from Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell" ("Naisha," "Gypsy"), or even taking a (failed) stab at a proper melodic single with closing anomaly "Children of the Night." And, no, in case you're wondering, Ritual didn't repeat the ten-year magic trick and release a third studio album in 2003, but their first two discs were reissued by Shadow Kingdom Records five years later, thus exposing legions of classic hard rock and metal enthusiasts to this fascinatingly imperfect gem of British heavy metal.

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