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The events surrounding the creation of Ritual's first album, 1983's Widow, read like a true comedy of errors, including lengthy release delays, poor recording conditions, and a botched manufacturing run that left a quarter of the 2,000 units pressed missing the band's logo, thus leading many to believe the group's name was also Widow. Needless to say, the resulting confusion effectively stunted the band's career and condemned the album to cult status until 25 years later, when a CD reissue through Shadow Kingdom Records made reviews like this one possible. It is therefore quite fitting that the sounds of thunder and torrential rain streaked across many songs here imbues Widow with a sullen ambience equal to its lengthy spell in suspended animation. The sounds of gale force winds introduced the opening title track, which rolls along on a strutting bassline reminiscent of Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell" before eventually accelerating to a gallop that will feel more familiar to Ritual's biggest target audience: New Wave of British Heavy Metal enthusiasts. Yet, ironically, the album's decidedly lightweight production made it impossible for more energetic metallic stompers such as "Never for Evil" and "Journey," as well as surprisingly catchy hard rockers like "Temptation" and "House of Secrets," to compete with the more powerful, in-your-face guitar sounds attained by the likes of Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, or Saxon. So it is arguably the slower, doom-laden offerings that provide Widow's most interesting moments, as they follow the title cut's aesthetic lead by walking through the fog-laden forest, past the cemetery gates, and into haunted mausoleums to unearth some musical ghosts of days gone by -- much like retro-minded contemporaries Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General. These ghostly séances included "Morning Star" (complete with tolling bells), "Burning" (featuring perhaps the album's best riff), and "Rebecca," which contained an intriguing acoustic guitar coda from idiosyncratic bandleader Gypsy Re Bethe. So as long as listeners don't come into it expecting a hits-filled album, or a Mutt Lange production job, there's no reason to quibble with Ritual's strangely captivating brand of underground metal; making Widow a welcome reissue for surveyors of the N.W.O.B.H.M.'s seemingly endless stores of music. [Shadow Kingdom's CD reissue also includes the non-album single, "Into the Night" -- a concise rocker recorded by the group in 1981.]

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