Ritual – The Hemulic Voluntary Band

By Josh Turner 

In this release, everybody is better at everything they do as each element has been markedly improved. In my humble opinion, this album is unrivaled by past attempts. Likewise, Ritual provides their best and longest song too, and by this, I count a successful pair as the decisive epic is actually second-best by a thin hair to another exceptional ditty.

If you didn’t want them to change anything, you won’t be pleased with the alterations. If you’re open to an augmentation or two, you’ll certainly be more than a little ecstatic. I know I was glad, and I greatly approve of the sometime major corrections to their initial specifications. You could conjecture that they really got my attention with this superior, new formula.

Looking at the artwork sketched by Javier Herboza, you would think this were the sequel to The Secret of Nihm or The Dark Crystal. Only this time, the semiprecious stone is of a darker and cuter lavender hue.

Moreover, I’ve been torn on whether the creatures on the cover are benign slugs or malicious Skeksis. Regardless, it takes no stretch of the imagination to think this originated in the noggins of grown-up children who once upon a time watched these fascinating tales come to life on the big screen or later on in syndication.

Parenthetically, these pint-sized and potentially egregious gremlins hang out on a wall like the stoners, Jay and Silent Bob. In addition, they make Hobbits and Ewoks look quite tall. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to tell if they are sociable or dangerous. Even the little girl behind the brickwork is disinclined to say hi. At a snail’s pace, she tries to muster up the courage to sneak a quick peek.

Like Adrian Monk I’ve tuned into subtle clues. If these thespians are friendly than how come one has his hand in a fist whereas another is ready for a karate chop? More importantly, why do they all wear wife-beater shirts? These peculiar gnomes are shrouded in so much mystery; you too would be hesitant to make their acquaintance

As to the music, it goes from harmless hallucinations to scary but benevolent parables. Plus, the climax is as profound as the disorienting mazes of Labyrinth. Truthfully; this is a strange collection of songs from a band that I had already felt was eccentric. Now they enter further into the convoluted vagaries of science-fiction.

On a side note, Ritual is slated to be the Saturday night hot-dogger at RoSfest 2008. To append the interrogatories, are they really that good and if so, what does their material entail? Personally, I’ve been unsure of their abilities until now. This album demonstrates musicianship and melodious enchantment; however, many times their singer is off-key and the songs don’t click.

Then again, I’ve heard of one passionate fan who says they are his absolute favorite. To have a place in one’s heart or to own such a critical timeslot, they must not be slouches or languid sloths.

Also, you’ll be happy to know that they will be on the coattails of their best release when they enter the theater. Hopefully, the audience will be pleasantly-surprised when they are slimed with this impressively-slick mucus.

Let’s review the caprice that occurs in this new and inventive world that could only have been whipped up by adults who had once watched the living dreams of Frank Oz and Jim Henson as they unfolded:

“The Hemulic Voluntary Band” – Right away, I’m sold even if I have no idea what this involves. I cannot tell a lie. I had done extensive research and a Google search, and wound up with nada. Already I was inclined to set up an interview to ask the questions: What is a Hemulic and why are they merely playing in their pastime? At the very least, I assume they’re musicians. The song is elaborate, intricate and catchy. From this point on, the contract is purely arithmetic and simple statistics. With brusque negotiation, the stipulation states that this earns the right to be called title track. It’s also a suitable beginning to a very novel venture. Could this be Prog Rock’s answer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? The only intelligent question is whether or not they’ll better this fare. Within seven minutes, you’ll soon find out.

“Into the Wild” – Neither a virus, an elephant or an earthworm has gone undetected in the system. In either case, it’s not as elite as the opener. While the tune is basic, it fittingly integrates with the rest of the peripherals. Mainly, this is a charily-planned setup for the next.

“Late in November” – This preeminent piece has got to be the finest apparatus they’ve assembled to date. Not only is it more combustible and catchy than a house consumed in a coastal wildfire, but it’s tremendously-poetic. Whether the trees have no leaves or the seeds have no needs, the rhyming in this tune is pleasantly-prolific.

“The Groke” – This relatively-pithy song is a slight letdown after the quality parts we’ve experienced in the preamble. Yet, this bloke is still a reputable companion to add to the fellowship. Luckily, their poorest submission is not enough to damage the enamel, because the other outstanding items act as a vital shield around the perimeter. Thus, we are inhibited in our ability to walk away after this negligible setback.

Waiting by the Bridge – It’s not much of a stretch to say this is a cross between Moon Safari and The Beatles. While it’s partly psychedelic, it’s mostly progressive. It’s fortunate it’s short as the next multi-faceted track is almost as good in grade as the third. Due to its quantity, the scales tip in the direction of the subsequent out-of-sight freight. Since it’s merely a hop, skip, and a jump across an overpass to this whole new world, there is no reason to delay the imminent entertainment any longer.

“A Dangerous Journey” – After a couple jelly donuts, a delicious bear claw and a messy creampuff, I was itching to complete the half-dozen. I was intrigued on what Ritual would do on their debut epic. I soon discovered that acoustics, accordions, and violins dominated the mix. Also, Patrik Lundström’s voice was beyond peppy. Nimble words pretty much flitted from his lips. Aside from some pebble-strewn transitions, the lengthy passages were welcome. Honestly, I was hesitant to get off this path. It was as aesthetically-pleasing to the mind’s eye and aseptically-inviting to the inner-ear as Lorena Mckennitt’s “Lady of Shallotte”. While it was ceaseless, the instruments and the verses compelled me to press on – whether persuasions by a stop sign or the pushy urgings of the pause button implored me to take a breather. If you can believe it, Dream Theater and Metallica loomed about the outpost. Even so, this Swedish quiche had folk music listed as its main ingredient. In the traversal of this melodically-diverse tundra, you eventually find out about a lost lass named Susan. If you didn’t catch it, she’s the youngster on the other side of the bricks and mortar. When you put it all together, this is Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz all rolled up into one big ball of yarn.

On the whole, this is incredible stuff, but we must attempt to satisfy a single remaining catechism. As the great conjunction nears, will they be able to heal this style of rock and in doing so, restore order on their niche moon? We’ll have to wait until the springtime to see how this curious and provocative prophesy ultimately transpires.

Like Uncle Norm (the aforementioned fan who will most likely be introducing them at next year’s RoSfest), I too have a special place for them in my repertoire. With the dawn of the severed amethyst, Ritual is now among The Mystics.