Bunsenburner – Rituals

After the ruthless shellacking I gave to Bunsenburner’s debut Poise, I didn’t expect to hear from the German revolving-door collective so soon. My critiques of the debut were called out by mastermind Ben Krahl, but a followup determined that “any publicity is good publicity” and he sent in 2023’s Rituals for another round. Stoner doom to the core, with a crystalline ambiance and jazzy overtures to effectively cover its lack of vocals, Poise was ultimately overlong and directionless. Regardless of my feelings of the debut, the show goes on!

Right off the bat, Ben took my advice. While I criticized the “jam sesh” vibe of Poise due to its question of purpose, Rituals flows much more fluidly and orgnanically. While the ingredients are largely the same, much better use is obvious here, with pleasant surprises pervading especially the back-half. While Krahl’s bass is the backbone of each song alongside the vast repertoire of his contributors,1 much more fleshed-out movements of mammoth stoner riffs, jazz, and the right dose of atmospherics make Rituals a far more listenable affair. Imperfect due to its emphasis on group chemistry which can fall back into old ruts and its runtime can pitch fits, daring experimentation and fluidity give Bunsenburner a shot at greatness.

While Poise focused on one stoner riff per track, Rituals is a far more restrained affair. Don’t get me wrong, cuts like “Dustbowl” and “Pathfinder” will provide the ganja-fuzzed concussion that recalls Church of Misery or Weedeater. Tracks “Cascades” and “CCC” are more successful Bunsenburner trademarks thanks to Krahl’s formidable bass, while interlude tracks “Threnody” and “Minor Case of Serious Brain Damage” revolve around jazzy plucking rather than its predecessor’s protracted ambiance. While these are a more honed version of Poise, it’s the experimental tracks that introduce a new sound palette that play to Bunsenburner’s strengths as an improvisational act. “Pathfinder,” “Rain Chant,” and “Journey in Satchidananda” introduce a distinctly contemplative Lathe-esque bluesy foundation, growing upon layers of bass before evolving into full-on Eyehategod swampy riffs by their respective conclusions. Centerpiece “Got a Light?” is a huge risk but pays off mightily, recalling Neptunian Maximalism’s Éons in its ominous chanting,2 ambiance, layers of exotic percussion, and jazzy mania – including the haunting voice of saxophone at its conclusion – a palette that continues into closer “/imagine” and the Miles DavisBitches Brew-esque bonus track “Minus World.” The jazz is a far more obvious influence in Rituals, existing alongside its bluesy Americana influence on tracks like “Journey in Satchidananda” or “Minor Case of Serious Brain Damage.”

To Ben’s credit, Bunsenburner’s only glaring fault is the Poise remnant “Pack Hunt,” which focuses on a cool groove and intriguing pinch harmonic that simply repeats too long for its four-minute runtime. Otherwise, you’ll find Rituals remarkably bottom-heavy by priority: stoner riffs dominate the opening twenty minutes before “Got a Light?” sidewinds it3 with its NNMM shenanigans, allowing Lathe-esque Americana and jazz experimentation to dethrone it. As such, tracks like “Cascades” and “CCC” feel directionless by design, melodies feeling less memorable and grooves going in one ear and out the other, especially compared to the bigger riffs in “Dustbowl” and the honed flow in “Rain Chant.” In spite of its more focused approaches and better dynamics, Rituals nonetheless feels its length, clocking in at fifty-three minutes. Passages in great tracks like closers “Journey in Satchidananda” and “/imagine” can feel overlong as a result. Ultimately, however, while Poise dealt in its fair share of pummeling riffs, Rituals prioritizes atmosphere and flow first, so those expecting to be brutalized by mammoth fuzz will be disappointed with the more patient back half.

You could make the case that Rituals is inconsistent, doing too much or too little across its runtime in ways that will not appeal to all audiences, but the progression across Bunsenburner’s sophomore effort feels more like a developing character rather than an overlong jam sesh. After last year’s Poise, I had few expectations from Ben and company, but Rituals surprised me in the best way I could have imagined. Only containing a shadow of its predecessor’s flaws and let down by its mammoth length and periodic loss of interest, its fluid and organic structure allows much more freedom in improvisation. Sorry for doubting you, Ben. This is good.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Bensnburner Records
Website: bunsenburner.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: August 11th, 2023

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Most notably drummer Norman Lonhard of Triptykon and guitarist Martin Fischer of Fear My Thoughts and Long Distance Calling.
  2. The only vocal approach on the album.
  3. Pun intended.
« »