No Great Loss

rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Burn the Widow
02. My Solitude (And So I Shall Depart)
03. Goth and Exhausted
04. Aqua Tofana
05. Autumn Song
06. Succumbing to the Ravages of Age

When RITUAL DICTATES released their debut album, "Give In To Despair", two years ago, the biggest thrill was that they were so fiendishly hard to pin down. Although superficially rooted in a fizzing mix of thrash, death metal and classic rock elements, the Canadians were plainly determined to leave every door open, while simultaneously assimilating the sharpest ideas into a malleable but sturdy sense of identity. More importantly, "Give In To Despair" absolutely slayed, as founders Justin Hagberg (DEAD QUIET / ex-3 INCHES OF BLOOD) and Ash Pearson (REVOCATION) reveled in their new project's liberated mindset, drunk on adrenalin.

If anyone was expecting more of the same on album number two, their delusions were robustly confronted when RITUAL DICTATES opened the campaign for "No Great Loss" with the mind-bending psychedelic goth pomp of "Burn the Widow". It opens this album and still sounds like nothing else: a blur of multiple influences or possibly none, it's theatrical and eccentric, but only has its tongue in its cheek to make sure its teeth are sharp. In fact, the gothic textures that only occasionally popped up on the band's debut have been fully explored on "No Great Loss", but these songs are far more inventive and progressive than their earlier counterparts, and RITUAL DICTATES are anything but a straight-ahead gothic metal band. That would be too easy, and this album is not in the business of taking the easy or obvious route to any of its shadowy destinations.

"Burn the Widow" paves the way with its mantra-like organ throb, none-more-prog vocal harmonies and mid-song detour into breakneck symphonic psych, as harrowing screams collide with Pearson's pitiless kicks. "My Solitude (And So I Shall Depart)" is a different ballgame entirely. A shoegaze-fueled post-punk monolith, it harkens back to the mournful likes of ANATHEMA and KATATONIA, but only indirectly: RITUAL DICTATES's unique strain of musical gloom goes measurably further out, incorporating horror's schlocky organ tropes and the windswept rush of post-everything rock in the process.

In contrast, "Goth and Exhausted" showcases Hagberg's skewed pop sensibilities, over a simmering krautrock-gone-grandiose backdrop. It's weirdly reminiscent of punk legends THE DAMNED in their "Phantasmagoria", pop-goth phase, and yet the song itself sweeps and shimmers like an atypically heavy STEREOLAB jam. It is both inexplicable and absolutely stunning. "Aqua Tofana" is equally expansive: a blissed-out cautionary tale of poisons both real and intangible, shrouded in haunted/haunting synths and spiritually tethered to doom metal's funereal wing, it has the towering gravitas of OPETH and the mysterious charms of an occult mass. "Autumn Song" follows at a similarly glacial pace but takes RITUAL DICTATES's ghostly intent to the next level, conjuring images of a greyed-out funeral cortege on its way to oblivion's gates. The closing "Succumbing to the Ravages of Age", a darkly intimate folk rock nightmare, is so far removed from the metal clatter of "Give In To Despair" as to be unrecognizable as the work of the same band.

And yet, Hagberg and Pearson have already made restlessness and ingenuity their chief selling point. "No Great Loss" is a magnificent and intensely individual piece of work, but it also gives zero indication what the next RITUAL DICTATES album will sound like. And that makes this even more exciting.

Author: Dom Lawson
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