Review: “No Great Loss” by Ritual Dictates

Back in 2014 Vancouver, British Columbia based musicians Justin Hagberg and Ash Pearson got together and recorded 2020’s “Give In To Despair“, an album that saw them through the conventions they were known for in aggressive Death Thrash out of the window. Instead they continued down the left hand path fusing together a collection of more eclectic influences in Black, Grind and Death Metal with a sprinkling of Classic Rock, the result remaining uncompromisingly heavy while being a step away from their previous offerings. Now, two years on, their second endeavour “No Great Loss” from the pair known for their work in 3 Inches of Blood and Revocation respectively under the moniker Ritual Dictates is one that promises something a little different to their first. Mixed by Jesse Gander (Brutus, Japandroids) and featuring many guest musicians, including Brittney Slayes (Unleash the Archers) and former 3 Inches of Blood guitarist Shane Clark (Worse, Elsinore), it’s an entirely different beast…

Eclectic and distinctly avant-garde, this time around the pair take something of a Gothic route to remain. A funky bass line and ethereal organ work brings together something with 70’s influences as “Burn the Widow” takes to flight while still having that having that heavier edge as Pearson brings blasts beats to a powerhouse final minute. The duo paint with textures in warm and fuzzy instrumentation as Hagberg’s bright clean vocals giving the whole record a brave and yet timeless feel to it and that continues playfully into “My Solitude (and so I shall Depart)“. Both tracks take the idea of the duo’s debut album title track “Give In To Despair” and build on those foundations, pushing out the extreme as far as it will go. While these meanderings are interesting there is the feeling that the there will be a twist of the knife, a razor sharp left turn that will find them suddenly dropping into Deathgrind mid song, but curiously enough that never happens. Instead this feels like a new project and a fresh start for the pair, leaving behind their first album like a discarded practice sheet as they start over. In short, the style shift from Give In To Despair” to “No Great Loss” puts the two albums an ocean apart with very little to identify them as being from the same band, to the point that fans of the first work may find this new record a bitter pill to swallow.

Sounding like something that belongs in a smoke filled 1920’s New York nightclub with crushed velvet curtains, “Goth and Exhausted” finds the addition of some saxophone courtesy of Matty Reed to add to the texture instrumentation, giving it a quirky touch in a similar vein to more recent works from Opeth. Justin Hagberg even starts to looks like Mikael Åkerfeldt in the video for the song. Something of a melancholic love song with deep Southern vibes akin to Spirit Adrift, “Aqua Tofana” finds the duo joined by Brittney Slayes of Unleash The Archers fame whose vocal melodies intertwine with Hagberg’s in a beautiful dark fashion with a soulful swaying rhythm dulling the ache. Perhaps the boldest of endeavours on an album of brave risk, it feels like a defining moment in the bands career as they follow in the footsteps of bands like Oceans of Slumber and Nick Cave in Southern Gothic exploration. Haunting Funeral Doom vibes are encapsulated perfectly in “Autumn Song” with its distinctly mournful verses, there is a moment of brief cannibalism in a spoken word that again threatens to explode into Deathgrind but instead falls away into another warm and meandering piece of instrumentation. Picking up the acoustic guitar and doing a Johnny Cash impression “Succumbing to the Ravages of Age” is a mournful ballad of dulcet chords and lyrics that anyone growing older in life can identify with. An intriguing offering that feels like the Ritual Dictates just wanted to have fun and create something different, this is something of a guilty pleasure [7/10]

Track Listing

  1. Burn the Widow
  2. My Solitude (and so I shall Depart)
  3. Goth and Exhausted (ft. Rachel Rampage and Matty Reed)
  4. Aqua Tofana (ft. Brittney Slayes of Unleash The Archers)
  5. Autumn Song
  6. Succumbing to the Ravages of Age

No Great Loss” by Ritual Dictates is out 7th October 2022 via Artoffact Records with pre-orders available over at bandcamp.

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