Widow / Valley Of The Kings
posted on 10/2008 By:
Scoring breakdown for both albums:
Widow: Production: 5, Songwriting: 4.5, Musicianship: 4.5
Valley of the Kings: Production: 5, Songwriting: 4, Musicianship: 4.5
The quick and dirty: if you're not interested in NWOBHM history, put your reading glasses away and go make yourself a sandwich...
As far as I'm concerned, the metal world is a better place because of Shadow Kingdom Records. The owner and sole proprietor is one of the true gentlemen of the business, and his label and distribution center have provided essential "under-the-radar" new releases and fresh chances at long out-of-print classics for many years. Tim essentially has a savvy finger on the pulse of underground heavy metal music, and he caters fairly exclusively to those bands and fans that shirk the latest trends in favor of remaining true to metal's ancestry and tradition, no matter which particular branch of our beloved genre we happen to be dealing with.
Now, before someone throws a flag and penalizes me for intentional ass kissing, understand that despite my devotion to SKR, I also realize no label is without blemishes, and that goes for this pair of releases as well (and this is a pair of releases, by the way: two albums, two separate discs). First of all, the music of Ritual will likely only appeal to a relatively small portion of our readers. That's not a true blemish, upon reflection, but even those with an ear for traditional throwback metal may have a few issues with what this band brings to the table (more on that momentarily). Secondly, three songs are actually repeated on both releases, and while I can certainly appreciate alternate versions of cuts, my initial spins left me crooking my brow with a "didn't I just hear this song?" look on my face because both reissues hit the streets at the exact same time.
The nitty-gritty: formed in the UK way-the-hell back in 1973, Ritual was (and apparently still are, considering they're listed as "active") one of the lesser known NWOBHM bands that sorta slipped under the radar alongside other dark horses such as Desolation Angels, Fist and Samurai. They released only two albums in twenty years of existence: the seminal Widow in 1983, and Valley of the Kings in '93. Founding member/guitarist/vocalist "Gypsy" Re Bethe also spent a good deal of time away from the band as a successful flamenco guitarist, which likely explains the band's meager output over the years.
In terms of where the band's music falls in comparison to a few other slightly better known NWOBHM bands (i.e. Angel Witch, Holocaust, Witchfinder General and Pagan Altar), I'd say Ritual's sound pre-dates the denser, more heavy metaller side of the spectrum and focuses its sites on simple hard rockin'. But another Def Leppard this certainly ain't either. The pace of these tunes is slower, and the mood is much, much darker. In fact, this is honestly some of the darker material to have come out of the NWOBHM movement, especially the '83 release. Still, I'll stress the fact that these are primarily hard rockin' albums that helped pave the way to a heavier metal, so keep that firmly in mind if your idea of good NWOBHM begins and ends with Maiden and Priest.
Re Bethe's position as guitarist is generously spotlighted on both Widow and Valley of the Kings, and rightly so: while I wouldn't necessarily call him the most technical noodler on the block, he has a beautifully light touch to his fret-play, and his lead work on both records give the songs a very organic, free-flowing feel that's quite soothing. Apart from that, the drumming never really breaks from being considerably casual, the bass is nice and thick on Widow, but sadly gets smoothed over on the much cleaner sounding '93 release, and Gypsy's (at times wobbly) mid-range vocals thankfully never quite push into a register he's not comfortable with.
If I were to choose a favorite amongst the two, I'd likely point interested parties in the direction of the debut, mostly because the aspects I feel that set Ritual apart from their peers seem more prevalent on Widow. More specifically, the album really ups the ante in terms of dark moods. While the soloing is a bit more complex on the '93 release (and at times downright Hank Shermann-esque), the debut's less polished sound and occasional drifts into thunder, rain and acoustics really adds a pernicious atmosphere to the record that's mostly polished over on Valley of the Kings. Still, both albums are certainly worthy endeavors for metal fans interested in the roots of our genre, and Shadow Kingdom has once again done a magnificent job of putting it all together and (thankfully) updating the album covers with artwork that's much more professional.
Again, this is likely nothing to be concerned with if all you care about in metal is brutality and pit punching the crap outta your shoelaces, but if you've got an ear for NWOBHM and you've had your fill of the standards, I'd certainly give Ritual and Shadow Kingdom your attention.
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