Ritual Dictates – Give in to Despair Review

When I think of grind as a genre, I think of unrelenting brutality. I think of short, crushingly visceral songs. I think of pounding drums and churning, impenetrable walls of guitar. I think of Napalm Death, of Pig Destroyer and of Nasum. I do not think of Three Inches of Blood – yes, the “kill the orcs, slay the orcs, destroy the orcs,” heavy, power metal Three Inches of Blood. So it was with some surprise that I stumbled across Ritual Dictates, a Canadian grind duo comprising ex-Three Inches of Blood members Ash Pearson, who mans the kit, and Justin Hagberg, who mans everything else.

Now, I liked Three Inches of Blood well enough (if you don’t know them and like some fun in your metal, go check out “The Goatriders Horde” right now and then come back) but I would not have predicted any form of grind band arising from their ashes. Perhaps it makes sense, therefore, that Ritual Dictates is only a form of grind band. There’s a lot of other stuff going on here too, that much is clear as soon as the first upbeat, almost cheerily punk guitar line drops. Over the next 33 minutes, Give in to Despair covers a lot of ground, ranging from actual grind (“Dominance and Will” and “Obsolete Instinct,” for example), but also dabbling in something approaching a power ballad (“Given to Despair,” with guest vocals from Ryan Driscoll and acoustic guitar from ex-Three Inches of Blood six stringer, Shane Clark), a speed-hardcore hybrid (“Poisonous Proclamation,” featuring Danko Jones), power metal (“Aperiam in Porta,” with vocals from If we are Machines’ Michael Kraushaar) and more, making this … progressive grind?

I generally find entire albums of grind wearing, their typically short runtimes notwithstanding, so the variety on show on Give in to Despair was, in theory, welcome. What Ritual Dictate proffer is also well executed from a technical standpoint. Pearson’s work on drums is stellar, as fans of Revocation will already know. Meanwhile, Hagberg’s work on guitar and bass is strong, with the latter unusually prominent for anything bordering on grind. His harsh, guttural vocals are on point and Ritual Dictates draft in a raft of guests – a number already mentioned – to give more range to the clean vocal segments. All components of a strong album are here, ready to be unleashed.

And there are undoubtedly enjoyable moments on Give in to Despair. The awfully-titled opener “It’s About Goddamn Time (The Hours Of Folly Part One)” hits the ground running, with a satisfying 90 second, bass-driven onslaught, that’s then topped by the Nasum-like fury of “Dominance and Will.” Likewise, “Poisonous Proclamation” takes no prisoners and I actually kind of enjoyed the soft, power metal back end of “Given to Despair.” But there are, at least for me, two significant issues for Ritual Dictates. The first is that the album feels disjointed and unfocused. Nearly all of what Pearson and Hagberg commit to record is done well, and the production is fine, but it doesn’t hang together as a single album to me. Secondly, the heavier, grind sections of the record lack the all-out intensity and meatiness that I want and expect from the genre. It feels almost like Ritual Dictates are holding something back. There are also, it has to be said, a few highly questionable vocal decisions on show (including the woeful ‘woaaahss’ on “Indivisible Mind,” that sound like Offspring rejects, and the similarly awful, strangled shouts of the title on “Terror of Time (The Hours of Folly Part 2)”).

All in all, it adds up to a patchy first outing for Ritual Dictates. There are a few bright points to Give in to Despair but I’m not really sure why they set out to make, ostensibly, a grind record because they don’t feel fully committed to it. Ritual Dictates seem to take almost any opportunity to deviate away from that supposedly core sound but not in a way that effectively blends other influences. Rather they just go and do other things briefly, before returning, with seeming reluctance, to the grind sound that they have chosen to anchor themselves around. On my first listen, I was intrigued by the segues but felt that for some reason the record didn’t hang together. I hoped that with more listens, Give in to Despair would come together for me. It didn’t.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Artoffact Records 
Websites: ritualdictates.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ritualdictates 
Release Date: Digital: 3rd April,2020 | Physical: 10th April, 2020

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