Ritual - Widow - Valley of the Kings
Shadow Kingdom Records
NWOBHM
Disc 1: 11 songs (53'07") Disc 2: 12 songs (57'21")
Release year: 2008
Shadow Kingdom Records
Reviewed by Alex

If you can stand another one of my stories growing up in Kiev, Ukraine, there was this place in my city where all metal LP collectors gathered in the early 80s. The cops obviously knew about it, but busted it only when they needed a few coins themselves confiscating the LPs (or the cash people brought to buy them). “Unlawful” music collection and exchange was illegal and metal, of course, lead the pack with all of the imagery on the LP covers. The cops could not read the English lyrics worth a damn, but they could clearly see the pictures. And the picture of a kneeling naked chick on the cover is how I remembered the band Widow, since those were the large letters visible on the cover. Turns out, Widow was a name of the ALBUM, not the band, which in actuality was called Ritual. Widow was the album Ritual released in 1983, and then the band fell on really hard times, having gotten screwed by their label. The album was very ill-promoted, and, as a result, Ritual largely remained relegated to the UK (mostly London) club circuit. The only other album Ritual released came out 10 years later in 1993, titled Valley of the Kings. A couple of overlapping songs from the full-length debut (Come to the Ritual, Burning and Morning Star), Valley of the Kings was the last time metal world heard of Ritual. Line-up changes, death of drummer John Gaster, severe injury sustained by the band’s mastermind/guitarist/singer Gypsy Re Bethe – all of this left Ritual as a legendary name in the then-burgeoning NWOBHM scene, but with little audio output to base that legacy on. You can find this story, in a lot more detail, in the booklets of both albums recently re-released by Shadow Kingdom Records in an effort to breathe life back into this British outfit. The naked chick, however, has moved from the front cover to the back of the booklet, as both albums have new covers on the front and old covers on the back. Of course, you won’t find in the booklets my personal story of the superficial youth staring at the cover and not giving Widow a chance, as my rubles were scarce and mostly devoted to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Accept.

Owing to Shadow Kingdom, now I have a chance to fill my metal educational gap. Widow begins with an eponymous song, lasting 8 min, coming along as a series of unhurried riffs where drums, bass and guitar layers are added on sequentially, with the full instrumentation riff being played for quite some time. Rhythm section uncomplicated, the song hits its highlight when a long soulful guitar lead, full of improvisation, enters the fray. The formula repeats over and over again, with some songs having distinct gallops in verses (Never for Evil, Burning), turning them into jumpy rockers, while other tracks (Morning Star) remain far less feisty. Introspective, with lyrics ranging from sappy to occult, Gypsy Re Bethe does the singing in pretty much one-tone voice, which does not really detract, but also does not focus the songs either. The vocals are basically there, Gypsy Re Bethe could not possibly wait to get to the real thing and let loose – to dive and pull out arpeggios on his fret, to jam endlessly, sometimes creating songs just to jam, thus showcasing his true intentions (Forever), but other times going off catchy main riffs (Burning). The choruses do have some hooks in them, and I find myself bobbing approvingly, without being excited much. Some wind and rain effects here and there, acoustic section in Rebecca, Widow reminds me of early way psychedelic Judas Priest, some of the less heavy Saxon songs or Deep Purple without monumental forever lasting Smoke on the Water riffs.

Valley of the Kings basically follows the same formula. Without overburdening its rhythm section, Ritual managed to have a little meatier sound, with acoustics blended better and made to be part of the songs (Naisha, Winds of Fire). Somehow the songs on the band’s second album present more complete products (Gypsy), with the beginning and the end, distinct key riffs and choruses which I could indeed imagine singing along to. Slightly different beats (Possessed), the songs also seem to be more up tempo and rocking (Lady Night, Gypsy, Never Look Back). Still, the album suffers from the lack of variety. While I have absolutely nothing against any one song in particular, the whole, in both albums, seems a tad monochromatic.

So, here I am, the gap of my youth filled. While certainly respectful for the effort Ritual put out and the influences they spawned, I can’t say I missed on a great one 25 years ago. Widow may be a classic, but it would be the one album I could put on a shelf and take the dust off while showing my friends in reverence, instead of spinning it endlessly.

Killing Songs :
On Widow - Burning, Into the Night; On Valley of the Kings - Gypsy, Burning again, Lady Night, Possessed, Never Look Back
Alex quoted 67(W),73(V) / 100
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