First released in 1995, this is the newly remastered version of the Swedish prog-rock revivalists’ first album – and a strange one it is too. It’s as though someone has melted down King Crimson‘s Larks Tongues In Aspic, Yes‘s Wondrous Stories, the Mahavishnu Orchestra‘s Birds of Fire and Queen‘s Night At The Opera, mixed them all together and made a new record out of them.
Not only is it derivative – which rather goes with the territory in the new generation of prog-rock revivalists – but, as with their countrymen Pain of Salvation, the lyrics do tend to lose something in translation. That said, however, unlike some of their rather more fey contemporaries, there is a gutsy, muscular quality to the music of Ritual, and enough moments of gentle folky lyricism to counteract the rather tiresome blasts of bombast scattered throughout this album.
Opening track Wingspread, despite its rather awkward lyrics, (“There was dawning nature looking in serene, put no question answer still unseen”), is a slab of alt-metal strongly reminiscent of King Crimson at their more excessive (Thrak, Red) while The Way Of Things, for all its rather silly references to Sir Gavin Knight, has a pleasingly pastoral quality, not unlike Yes in their more reflective moments. It’s also not stretching the comparison too much to liken Life Has Just Begun to Jethro Tull at their most rustic.
The alternation of soft, acoustic passages with driving rock, evident on this track as it is throughout the album, helps to hold the attention, as does the occasional literary reference. In particular, the work of Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins, pervades several tracks, not least the rather lovely Seasong for the Moominpappa.
What does become rather wearing, especially on the more up-tempo tracks, is the screeching falsetto of Patrick Lunstrom, which merely underlines how important the singer is to the overall identity of a band. The best prog-rock vocalists – Greg Lake, John Wetton, Jon Anderson – have an uncluttered, pure delivery, whereas Lunstrom’s mannered style tends to over-egg an already rich musical pudding. The songs require less vocal ornamentation, not more, to allow the detail to shine through. Too often the tracks sound cluttered, and that’s a shame because there is much to like about this album. It should reach a wider audience than on first release and will no doubt earn the band several new admirers.