I first came across Denver, Colorado’s Western Ritual almost a year ago when I caught the three-piece open for In the Company of Serpents, and later at the second annual Denver Doom Fest. Needless to say the band left quite an impression and I’ve been anticipating a studio release ever since. Without gimmick or pretense the band entrances the listener with a dark and sprawling stoner vibe that is grounded with a thick bass groove and exotic riffing. Add to the mix the sultry yet powerful vocals of bassist Amy Davis—who is also capable of inducing goose bumps with her wail—and the end result is an effectively heavy and atmospheric excursion into the dimly lit recesses of psychedelic doom-rock.
“Murder”, the EP opener, establishes an oppressive, disconsolate mood that courses like blood within an artery at a bradycardic pace, slowly advancing its way through the remaining five tracks. The simple, repetitious chorus of the song’s title as uttered by Davis is both unsettling and haunting as the music swells around her seemingly detached observation. Second only to heft and groove are tone and atmosphere, and Western Ritual have ceremoniously perfected their trade with precision. “Cauldron” continues the band’s investigation of darker textures and includes some of the album’s most memorable riffs and creatively propulsive drumming courtesy of Uldis Heyl and Jesse Newland respectively.
The third track, “Deth Xmas”, really exposes the limitations of a studio recording when compared to a live setting. As a testament to the band’s live performance, Davis’ shrieking wails towards the end of the track simply don’t cause the listener’s hair to stand on end or carry the spine-tingling weight that they do in the live setting. Regardless, “Deth Xmas” is a killer tune and perhaps the “heaviest” track on the EP. The EP closes out with the sprawling masterpiece “Good Luck”, a tune that is at times reminiscent of Steel Pole Bath Tub’s “Borstal”.
The six songs that comprise Western Ritual’s self-titled EP are well crafted, fully realized, and feature a unique mix of nod-inducing grooves and demiurgic riffs that should easily satisfy fans of stoner-rock and doom. The only real complaint is that the EP ends way too soon. Fans of Uzala or, especially, Black Math Horseman should definitely investigate further. Highly recommended.
Words: Steve Miller