Ritual, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is defined as “the established form for a ceremony“; “a ceremonial act or action“. When you step into the world of Ritual, the brand new long player by Skeleton Beach, you are indeed stepping into ceremony.
This album harkens back to the days of double gatefold sleeves and hanging out in a darkened basement with no light but from a candle or two, and the glow of a tube-driven Pioneer receiver. Faint whiffs of smokey haze linger in the air, putting you in a heightened state of being. Needle drops on black vinyl. World fades into the corners of that half-finished hole in the suburbs as analog beasts breathe and wheeze, painting aural landscapes and psychedelic dreams. Album side excursions, spiritual journeys taken in holey jeans on beanbag chairs, and escaping reality thru sonic manipulation.
This is ceremony. This is church for the freethinker; time travel for the teenage philistine.
Gene Priest, aka Skeleton Beach, is a sonic mad scientist of sorts. Like with his electronic duo Cemetery Gates, Skeleton Beach is a vehicle for him to compose and create circuital worlds where you can get lost. With Skeleton Beach, Priest gives himself more room to explore and open portals of sound. Going from ambient to soundtrack vibes, he lets the synths take him where they may. But with Ritual, there is a new vibe happening. He worked on a new form of composition, one where improvisation and mood dictate the route taken. Ritual is an ode to albums like Phaedra, Rubycon, and Timewind; long songs that concentrate on the journey more than the destination. Isn’t the journey usually what we remember anyways? At the very least, we should look out the window once in a while and appreciate the scenery.
Ritual is a record built around a reunification with the earth. It’s a burning down of ourselves and allowing us to be reborn through the buzzing of synths. The promise of dismantling our own forgone conclusions and letting what sits before us help write new ones. Pain, pleasure, darkness, light…it’s all part of the journey.
“Blood Moon” seethes and sways like something rising from some great cavernous hole. Priest expertly builds upon a modulating riff that pulls energy from both Berlin School vibes and cool 80s soundtrack lore. “Purification” sounds like a looming cloud overhead. There’s an immensity to its blips and beeps, with an underscore of dread just near the surface. “False Faith” has a dark eloquence to it. A looming sensuousness in the sultry rhythm and the repeating riff puts me in mind of Brad Fiedel’s excellent work on the original Fright Night score. “False Faith” acts as sort of a centerpiece to Ritual, and it’s a gloriously epic piece.
There are moments of contemplative beauty amongst the track list of Ritual, too. One of those is the uplifting “Ceremony”. There’s a feeling of clouds breaking open to share some of the sunlight they’ve been hiding. Here, Priest steps from the darkened woods to let the brightness of OMD and early Depeche Mode shine upon him. It’s a emotional break in the heaviness.
Album closer and title track “Ritual” sounds like machines buzzing and building their own doomsday device. There’s elements of Carpenter, Fiedel, and even Vangelis here. Industrial noise mixed with melancholy wisdom. A definitive period at the end of a sentence that begins in Ritual.
Ritual is both a nod to heady electronic albums from the early 70s, and to the ritual of listening to them. The process and the feeling we got from them. Though don’t take this as a nostalgia trip. Skeleton Beach has built his own world here; one where we make our own conclusions. Ritual is a journey that allows us to decide when and where the destination is. This is the best Skeleton Beach album yet, and an album to get lost in for years to come.
8.3 out of 10