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Ritual - The Hemulic Voluntary Band CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

4.11 | 276 ratings

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5 stars When Ritual's last release, Think Like a Mountain, was released I was reviewing for the Dutch Progressive Rock Pages I knew next to nothing about the band. All I knew was that Patrik Lundstrom, their lead singer was also lending his talent in the then newly reformed Kaipa (and I had liked what I'd heard from him in that context). Think Like a Mountain was enough to set Ritual squarely in my sites as a band that warranted further investigation, and I soon acquired the re-master of their self titled debut album, which has become one of my favorite progressive albums of the modern era (post 1990). So when Ritual announced a forthcoming new release I was naturally curious to see what this band of shifting styles would offer this time around. I checked out their myspace page to get some idea of the new CD, and there it was: The Hemulic Voluntary Band. huh? I looked at the cover art, listened to the samples, and was hooked! Yes indeed, The Hemulic Voluntary Band! I ordered it immediately.

This album appeals to me on so many levels. From the artwork (done by Javier Herbozo-some of my favorite album artwork ever!), to the music, to the lyrics and concept, I have remarked to some that this is the album I have been waiting for, for a long time, but had no idea I had been waiting (ironically, Ritual asked in the last release 'What Are You Waiting For?'). On this new album, as on the others, Ritual's unabashed ecosophy (look it up on wikipedia!), wild imagination, and apparent reverence for the natural world is once again pervasive throughout, which (in this world of fast food, wholesale religious extremism, overzealous politicians (Blue Meanies!!), and pollution run rampant) endears them to me greatly. However, the presentation of the material on this release is pretty dramatically different form previous efforts. Here, the band has set down music which feels so intimate, even when it rocks, due (I think) mostly to the fact that there seems to be very little in the way of padding. You can almost always distinguish the four members playing their individual instruments without any heavy overdubbing, synth washing, crazy digital effects or fancy engineering (which they did on Think Like a Mountain. very very well I may add!!). Instead you get beautifully arranged textural ensemble based arrangements that range from the dense to the spare, acoustic and folksy to anthemic electric prog rock, from heavily contrapuntal (ala Gentle Giant) to transparent and serene, every moment of which could conceivably be reproduced faithfully in a live setting.

Keyboardists' choice of gear so often has so much to do with the definition of a band's sound-especially in prog, and Jon Gamble's certainly does here. He restricts himself on the album to Clavinet, Harmonium, Piano, and Rhodes, with playing that at times is reminiscent of Kerry Minnear's work. His style is textural and lyrical, subtle at times and funky at others. Frederik Lindqvist contributes an arsenal of eclectic instrumentation to the album, including Irish Bazouki, Dulcimer, recorders & whistles and, oh yeah, bass-and may I say that his bass playing is extremely exciting on this release (is your head isn't bobbing to his bass line during Waiting by the Bridge I suggest that you check your pulse to make sure you're still alive)! The drumming on THVB is not about flash or how many notes can possibly fit in a measure, but is instead all about groove and feel. Johan Nordgren offers up some of his tastiest stick work to date and also contributes some beautiful work on the Nyckelharpa, a kind of keyed fiddle. And of course there is the singular voice of Patrik Lundstrom, who also displays his formidable skills on acoustic and electric guitar. The wild intensity of Patrik's voice is still evident, but he seems to have less of an edge on this record, with a warmth, restraint, and range of emotion that is quite stunning and inspired (his falsetto will send shivers up and down your spine!). And collectively the band offer up some incredible vocal harmonies. I should also give mention to special guest Lovisa Hallstedt who offers moving violin work on the epic Dangerous Journey'.

The Hemulic Voluntary Band, while not strictly a concept album, does have a thematic thread that ties it all together. The band have used the works of Tove Jansson as a springboard for the majority of the text and stories here, all except for one tune which still fits right in with the overall vibe of the album. The use of language is great and the lyrics are extremely well done. To read more in depth about the premise of the album and of each piece, the band have provided extensive descriptions on their website. For these weary ears, this album is a breath of fresh air, a musical triumph and an artistic one, which takes the listener on a fantastical journey through a world where everything is possible and where imagination and ecology are the rules of the day. It reminds us that worlds of wonder are always available to us if we can just remember see the natural world and each precious moment of creation through the eyes of the eternal child. Highest praise for The Hemulic Voluntary Band!

CMeeker | 5/5 |


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