9 Songs, 53 Minutes


About Ritual

As well as giving rise to hundreds of new bands captained (or perhaps "pirated" would be a better term) by hungry young Turks fueled by the D.I.Y. lessons of punk rock, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal of the early '80s also provided a tolerant platform for numerous groups that had been struggling to launch their careers for much of the previous decade. And as history would record, these ranged from eventual superstars (Iron Maiden, formed in 1975) to middle of the pack favorites (Raven, 1974) and, of course, plenty of utterly obscure relics like Ritual (1973). The latter hailed from the city of London and were led by vocalist and guitarist Gypsy Re Bethe throughout their largely undocumented existence. This was largely consumed with numerous club gigs and cassette demos, before a proper debut single matching a ragged heavy rocker named "Into the Night" with an instrumental B-side called "Burning" was finally pressed in 1981. But with little in the way of marketing support from the band's label, Romany Records, the single was quickly buried amid the surrounding NWOBHM cacophony, and Ritual had to wait another two years before getting a chance to record their first album, Widow. Ironically, this only confused matters even further for the band, when their name was erroneously omitted from the cover art on three out of four copies printed, leading most of those who actually obtained one to believe that both album and group were named Widow.

Notwithstanding this comedy of errors, the trio of Bethe, bassist Phil Mason, and drummer Rex Duvall gamely supported the LP as best they could, both on-stage and on the airwaves, as guests on Alan Freeman's popular Friday Night Rock Show. At the end of the day, though, Widow's production standards left something to be desired, and its songs' predominantly gothic/doom qualities — akin to Witchfinder General and Pagan Altar — were largely at odds with prevailing NWOBHM trends, which prized energy and aggression above all else. So as the decade wore on, Ritual's profile remained deeply underground and their very survival was ever in doubt; yet they repeatedly conquered adversity and anonymity by playing at any venue that would have them, and recording the odd single when they could — including 1986's "Never Look Back" and 1988's "Cry in the Night." And, ultimately, Bethe's persistence paid off when he was able to record a second Ritual album entitled Valley of the Kings in 1993, with the help of long-serving bassist Mason and newer member John Gaster on drums.

Unfortunately, once again there was little financial or promotional support to be had, and, at any rate, the market for the band's style of traditional heavy metal (well, any sort of heavy metal!) had grown selective, at best, in the flannel-flying '90s. As a result, Ritual would remain confined to the heavy metal underground thereafter, continuing to work when possible and enjoy cult favor among the heavy metal cognoscenti, while weathering additional setbacks like Gaster's death from pancreatic cancer in 2001 (he was duly replaced by new drummer Zak Bartok). Then, in 2008, their legacy was unearthed and finally given some manner of belated recognition when both albums were reissued with a smattering of bonus cuts and revealing liner notes by Shadow King Records. What's more, Gypsy Re Bethe maintains that Ritual will be heard from again, whether the mainstream ever starts paying attention or not.