Duality is a part of life. Man and God. Heaven and Hell. Filet mignon and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. There’s a time and a place for putting on your best suit and giving a polished presentation to your boss, and there’s a time and a place for slamming Michelob Ultras in your underwear while listening to Impaled Nazarene‘s discography in reverse order1. Since this is a band called Whiskey Ritual, I’m sure you’ve already figured out which side of the spectrum they fall on. Here’s a hint: my pants are already off. Likewise, my horns are in the fukkin’ air, and this Italian quintet’s fourth album Black Metal Ultras is blasting so loud in my head right now that I want nothing more than to quit my job and devote my life solely to listening to thrashy black n’ roll that’s obsessed with all the finer things in life (namely drugs, prostitutes, and Satan).
Formed in 2009, Ritual originally started as a side project between members of groups like Forgotten Tomb and Caronte. I haven’t heard any of their previous material, but if Ultras is any indication the band thrive on a simple and raw approach that highlights the duality inherent in the black n’ roll style. Opening duo “Black Metal Ultras” and “In the Army of Hell” hew closer to the “black,” the former with melodic Sargeist-style riffing and the latter with hot raging chords that remind you of a time when black metal still felt dangerous. Vocalist Dorian Bones further accentuates the trveness with a croaky rasp that recall’s Dead’s performance on early Mayhem. It’s only the playful squealing notes of “Hell” that hint at the “rock” to come.
And once it comes, things start getting really fun. “Knockout” and “Die Hard” almost sound like a dirtier version of Kvelertak with their blackened and headstrong riffs, with “Hard” taking the comparison even further with classic cock rock solos that sound like the leads from ‘tak‘s eponymous song. “666 Problems” continues to rock like ‘tak with its memorable shout-along chorus, but it’s “Death Comes by Limo” that’s the real jewel of this dirty pawn shop. Riding verses of biting tremolo riffs, the song infuses its chorus with a sweet boogie rock melody that just makes me want to go surfing in a Darkthrone shirt or something.
With only a few riffs per track, the songwriting is pretty simple but the band’s ideas are typically strong enough to keep things engaging. Though the songs tend to run a little long and Ritual‘s rock riffs tend to be more entertaining than their black metal ones, ultimately the band’s “middle finger to the world” attitude makes it hard to give much of a fuck. I imagine this album was recorded amongst the refuse of broken beer bottles and the rotting remnants of Taco Tuesday, because it sounds fukkin dirty. The production is raw, hot, and stuffy, with loud guitars that sound like the aftermath of bad chorizo. Initially I was put off by the sound, but it fits so well with Ritual‘s aesthetic that it quickly becomes part of the charm. It helps that penultimate track “Manifesto” feels more dramatic than the other songs, while the closing cover of Turbonegro‘s “Denim Demon” burns down what remains of the house with its catchy shouted chorus and verses that tick like a time bomb.
Initially I considered Ultras a dirty and unappealing album, yet it grew on me more with each listen. Duality is a fitting way to think about it. On the surface it sounds like the band totally don’t give a fuck, and yet the album has lots of memorable ideas, flows well, and is entertaining front to back. At times it feels like Whiskey Ritual are playing for no one but themselves. Yet they also sound like if some black metal dudes were accidentally booked as the house band for a biker bar and had to come up with a setlist on the spot that would appeal to the local clientele. Though hardly a year-end contender, those nasty underground fukks who want a rockier version of Shitfucker or a more blackened G.I.S.M. could do a lot worse than grabbing the bottle opener with me and popping the top on Black Metal Ultras.