Review: Ritual Earth, MMXX (Iodine Recordings, 2022)

Philadelphia's Ritual Earth has been on my radar for some time since vocalist George Chamberlin was in the excellent '90s hardcore act Autumn, but—despite having originally been self-released in late-2020—this proper Iodine Recordings issuance of MMXX is my first time really diving into their output. Apparently some of the other band members had been in Chimpgrinder, who I'm unfamiliar with, but neither of those ties is likely to prepare the listener for the fact that these six tracks present 45 minutes of admirably executed atmospheric doom metal that leans toward the vibe of psych-tinged "stoner rock."

A portion of what I mean by that is that the production is dense and natural without relying on the oppressive, crushing weight of guitars/distortion. The well-rounded, fuzzed-out distortion leaves plenty of room for roving bass, as well as spacey synths, fronted by unique singing that lands somewhere between, say, Trouble and early Alabama Thunderpussy (but cleaner). The overall atmosphere is dark and droning, though, there's no "boogie" to the "rock," if you know what I mean.

Opener, "Solar Ecstacy," ambles through a few such characteristics, including some spheroid, double-bass-fueled Mastodon-esque runs; before "Escape Velocity" starts upping the run times, exploring a restrained gallop and slick dual guitar interaction that highlights their use of panning. I can be biased against keyboards, but herein they're utilized quite well—amidst this composition in particular, alongside atypically chugging note choices and another dash of rumbling percussion that's more tactfully energetic than one might expect.

"Reprisal/Nebulas Diabolos" blends stunningly sleek acoustic and electric guitars. Again, beautiful use of subtle panning—this is one of the finer examples of how strong the production/mix are, offering so many little details to uncover. "Free From My Vessel" is the shortest track, so perhaps it's not a coincidence that it's also one of the more direct—heavier, harder-hitting, and oddly "catchy," to some degree. An immediate standout, for sure.

"I am Dreadnaught" is a six-minute bruiser that balances some of the swirling atmospherics with more of the chugging churn that crept into "Free From My Vessel." It's worth pointing out that another cool aspect of these plodding rhythms is that while some of the influences could be obvious, there's always a little twist to make sure that nothing is too direct—quirks in the phrasings or rhythms that add a little dissonance or swerve.

Mammoth closer, "Ascension Dimension," tops 12 minutes, the first four consisting of almost jazzy chords and textures, the lushness of which lend themselves to '70s prog rock comparisons; as soft, droning vocals bubble up in the mix below. Eventually, the piece opens up into a slightly more structured back-and-forth with plodding rhythms and winding lead melodies, retaining an improvisational drone on the groove.

The vinyl is limited to 500 copies split between "nebulas" (gold/white merge), "solar ecstacy" (black in white with splatter), or "supernova" (gold with black and gold splatter), and each variant looks absolutely beautiful—a perfect match for the black/white/gold aesthetic of the outer sleeve. The LP itself is housed in a fittingly black dust jacket, plus a double-sided insert with additional art/photography and lyrics. (I must say, this band is on point with the visuals—even their stickers look freakin' great!) The album's available on CD as well, which I always appreciate!

Not to be left out, the lyrics blend astral imagery with occasional turns toward apocalyptic decimation:

Droughts destroy farmers crops
Erupt the mountain tops
Pathogens fall from the sky
There's nowhere left to hide

Know that I'm a consumer of souls
Take a breath and let me come take a hold
No, there's no escape from my grasp
Future now collides with the past

While this is a genre that I enjoy, I must admit that my exposure has always been fairly cursory. That being said, though, I'd have to hope that heavy-duty fans of this niche would find Ritual Earth quite appealing. Their take is familiar without being unoriginal, and the care that they extend to the quality of their songwriting, arrangements, and nuances really pays off quite nicely. Well done.

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