In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
It’s been a week, folks. And when it’s been a week like this particular week has been, you use music for different things. There were moments when I needed it to be loud, abrasive, and aggressive enough to drown out the anger and rage and sadness, and there were moments when I needed it to bring me to a safe place, a place where I could float away and get lost. Shuffling through the new and upcoming releases, I kept coming back to two albums that managed to do the job, so for this edition of the Second Circle let’s plunge into the depths with Shame Ritual and Ruby the Hatchet.
All I need to tell you about Shaman Ritual and their debut Sinister Totem is that it’s being released by Caligari Records. By now you should need nothing else to encourage you to buy this blind. Expertly weaving black and death metal with flourishes of post metal and an almost tribal sense of polyrhythms. If there’s a crime here it’s that the album came out digitally in June and didn’t make a larger splash then, something having the backing of a great niche label like Caligari will hopefully rectify.
Opening with the lurching “Ritual” there are moments of icy measured ringing notes played against a blackened doom progression as the vocals move forward and backward in the mix, enshrouded in a fog. It hits my favorite parts of atmospheric black metal, where speed is replaced with menace, slowly prowling on the edges until it explodes near the end of the track. The measured pace is really the pocket for Sinister Totem, and it’s a credit to the band that the album varies enough to never feel like it’s dragging (the 32 minutes run time helps, too). “Hunt for the Mist” has a raging gallop and bare tremolo lines that tie it closer to its black metal roots, but the drums refuse to play safe, the double kick moving from Dave Lombardo prelude to blasting blackness. There’s not a weak moment on the six tracks, so if modern black metal that aims for menace more than insanity is your bag, this excellent debut from Shaman Ritual has you covered.
From sinister to psychedelic…Ruby the Hatchett has been a go-to for me since their 2012 debut Ouroborous. Five years later they return with Planetary Space Child, which puts a little less focus on the stomp of their 70s infected psych doom and emphasizes the moodier, fuzzed out jam aspects. And the album’s the better for it, taking more space and time to move into great musical moments, each player feeling for the dark groove and alternating between supporting characters and moving ahead of vocalist Jillian Taylor.
Make no mistake: Taylor continues to be a powerhouse, but one of the things I love about Planetary Space Child is how much the band takes the reigns here, whether it’s the arpeggios that open the title track, the keyboards that embrace and threaten to overwhelm the swagger of “Killer,” or the solos that run rampant over the entire record, slithering in an out of the keyboards and drums. All that and you can still hear the hum and thump of bassist Lake Muir who seems never content to just back the guitars of Johnny Scarps, instead creating his own counter melodies underneath and giving each song a life of its own. As good as each songs is, it all comes together in the gorgeously hazy “Lightning Comes Again” with Taylor leading the band through different movements, light to dark, laid back to awake and ready for a fight. As mush as I’ve enjoyed Ruby the Hatchet to this point, Planetary Space Child puts them on another level, one where they’re leading the movement for rock by expertly mining the past.
Until next time,