|TOO LATE TO CHANGE...
The story of Belgium's RITUAL, as recalled by Alain Vandenberghe and Didier Retelet
Like many bands of the Eighties, Belgium's Ritual weren't lacking in talent but found themselves trapped in a bubble of indifference which hampered their chances of ever breaking through. A shame, because, as this album clearly shows, the quartet had a lot to offer and over two demos recorded some sixteen years apart, produced some highly exciting material.
The first four songs the band put to tape were recorded in 1984, by a line-up which featured vocalist Alain Vandenberghe, guitarist Didier Retelet, bassist Raymond Roobaert and drummer Eric De Boeck. The band had actually started life under the name Weaver Of Insanity when, in Didier's words, "a bunch of friends, heavy metal crazy, decided to form a group. This was in 1977. By the late Seventies though the name Weaver Of Insanity didn't mean anything to us and became obsolete." As for the name 'Ritual', "I loved the sound of the word," he says. "Certainly there were others suggested, but I have no recollection of those we rejected.
"It was in April 1984, I think, that we recorded the demo, and it was a first for all of us. Tired of attracting little interest, we chose to record this tape to contact the smaller labels that we thought would be likely to be interested in us."
"It wasn't easy for us at that time," adds Alain. "We weren't working but we were rehearsing almost every day. We put our money together, and my mother contributed some as well, but it was not enough so we had to do the recordings at night, over three nights, I think it was."
The band were, overall, happy with the results of the sessions, "even if it did not reflect the essence of the group," says Didier.
"We asked the sound engineer to listen to 'Vol.4' by Black Sabbath to get a feel for what we wanted," explains Alain, "but he didn't, I don't think. And we didn't have any great experience of studios at that time so we had to make do with what we had."
The Belgian scene wasn't huge, but that didn't stop Ritual from gigging extensively. "There was no rivalry as such," recalls Didier, talking about the country's bands. "We - our style of playing - was not really in tune when groups like Sodom or Kreator landed, but that did not prevent us from sharing concerts with them. Metal was not welcome in those days anyway, when Depeche Mode and Duran Duran were popular..."
"I do remember feeling a bit 'lonely'," Alain says, "as the thrash thing was coming. Cyclone and Ostrogoth were the only bands we were close to - we played concerts together, and became friends. To play, the Flemish part [of the country"> was the place to be: Aalst, Zottegem, Gent, they had a lot of metal bars, some with concert halls."
I wondered if there was a memorable show that sprang to mind. "All of them," quips Didier.
"I think the concert with Sodom and Kreator was memorable," volunteers Alain. "In fact," he laughs, "I could write a book about it. We lost a piece of the van on the way there, arrived late and so Sodom had to play before us, we were looked at like we were from another planet, and some people were afraid of us. We played loud and heavy, some shit happened in the crowd... It was fun!"
In the band's early days, Ritual's influences were "everything we listened to, inevitably," suggests Didier, "from Black Sabbath to Hawkwind."
"Although I must say," Alain chips in, "that before coming to Ritual I didn't have a wide musical experience. I listened to bands like Status Quo, Sweet, Slade, Black Sabbath, very normal stuff... But when I joined, man, Didier had so many records of bands I didn't know. I discovered bands unknown to me like Josefus, Horse, Hawkwind, Witchfinder General, Witchfynde, Demon, St Vitus, Mercyful Fate, Nemesis / Candlemass, Trouble etc... And Raymond and Eric had different backgrounds again. Raymond was more into blues and boogie, making me listen to Frank Marino, Cream, Cactus, UFO, Pat Travers, May Blitz, and Spooky Tooth. And Eric was into jazz stuff. It was always a pleasure to spend time with them, as I was learning all the time."
To my mind, there appears to be a lot of Black Sabbath in Ritual's sound, mainly because Sabbath never played things directly: Geezer Butler played all around the song, rather than keeping the bass line, and Bill Ward brought jazz and swing influences to his drumming under Tony Iommi's heavy riffing. It's all there in Ritual's music. Given the band's wide range of influences, I wondered if they'd agree, and if it was intentional. "Yes and no," suggests Didier. "It was not intentional, even if that's the way it came out, but then we'd do nothing to change this either."
"And as I said," adds the vocalist, "Didier is a riff master, Raymond had his roots in boogie and made things groove, Eric with his jazz thing made it swing, so we were similar but not copying. And, OK, some say I sing like Ozzy, but that was not my intention - I just have a voice that's similar to his."
The band continued to play live but with little interest from record companies decided to press the demo to vinyl themselves. As Didier puts it, "After two years of barren prospects, we wanted to leave a trace and decided to press the demo recorded in 1984, although without money, we did not have the opportunity to remix the tape so it was pressed identically thanks to our friend, Nicolas Parent, who wanted it as much as we did. Apart from half a page in 'Le Soir' and a few words published in fanzines, we were far from our hoped-for goal. Before we'd recorded that tape, by the way, a song of ours (with a different line-up) 'Mr. Desnoyer' had appeared on a local compilation, 'New Performances For Soundproof Rooms' which came out in 1983." [Ritual at this time had consisted of Didier, together with a bassist / vocalist called Andre and drummer Laurant Duprez.">
Having taken the decision to do it themselves, the band's self-titled 12" EP appeared on their own Black Ritual Records in 1986, with a limited pressing of just 500, making it a real collectors' item now. "We were obliged to go down that route as the majors weren't listening. We created Black Ritual Records, so we had a label and a name," says Didier. "We kept playing for a while and then we said goodbye, having exhausted all that could be envisaged at our level."
Ritual played their last gig on 26 June 1987 at Le Foyer in Braine-L'Alleud. As with any band, there had been some great times and some tough times too. For Didier, "to discover that we had fans was a highlight, but the fact that no label bothered to talk to us about a contract was the low point."
"For me the best time was just to be with them," says Alain. "I learned so much from them - to be humble, to work the music, to go out to bars, drink beers, try some drugs, party, and talk... I was forever talking with Raymond and Didier about music, and Raymond was a very funny man - he made jokes about everything. It was a real pleasure to be with him."
And the worst of times? "When it was very clear that we were going nowhere - no deals, no concerts anymore, nothing but disillusionment."
After the band split, Alain threw his energies into Hitchiker, a side project he'd formed a few years back which featured Marc De Ruwe on bass and Eddy De Logi on drums, familiar faces at Ritual's gigs. The band would change their name to Dream Machine with the arrival of H.H. Del Rio. "I was in a band called Dream Machine," explains Alain. "At first it was with Ritual's crew members - roadies; the drummer had learned drums with Eric, and we had some Ritual songs in our set." New bassist H.H. Del Rio - known to all and sundry as Didier Retelet - replaced Marc De Ruwe, and when Dream Machine ended a new band, Fallow, was formed.
"Alain continued with various formations of his own, including Dream Machine where I took bass and then guitar duties," Didier elaborates. "At the arrival of Pat, ex-Sixty Nine, I continued on my own path and formed several other bands over the years - Rasa Skanda, Les Vins Peches, Invaders From Mars, Snowy Red. In 2010 Xray ex-DV8, Ritual 2000, invited me to participate in the project The Eyes From Beyond, and we released the vinyl 'Behind Electronic Process Negative' in 2014."
But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, and in "Ritual 2000" in Didier's list of bands lies the clue... The spirit of that original band still lurked in the background, and Ritual was officially resurrected in early 2000, with Alain and Didier now joined by Eddy De Logi and bassist Jeanf Vranckx. In May they emerged from the studios with a second tape, "recorded and mixed 2000 at Polygone studio, Ixelles, Belgium, by Pol Delnoy," confirms Didier. This time around six songs were recorded, all of which have been gathered up here: three of them ('Rising Insane', 'Too Late To Change' and 'Just Want Some Rush') saw the light of day on a limited edition CD while the rest remained in the vaults.
"Well, I thought that it was the right time to be together again, and Didier had a friend who could record us, so why not," laughs Alain. Lyrically, the songs tend to express the band's dissatisfaction with religion. "Any religion. We were disgusted by what it all meant."
Ritual played a few more shows and then called it a day for a final time. "It wasn't a big thing," recalls Didier. "We did a few concerts, but then the band stopped."
"We were on our own again," says Alain. "We played some dates, as Didier says, but again, there was no deal, nobody was interested in our music, so we decided to split again."
Regrettably, neither Raymond Roobaert nor Eric De Boeck lived to see the reformation. The rhythm section, who'd joined Greenhorns together after Ritual had split, both died of cancer within two years of each other. Raymond suffered from cancer of the liver and passed away on 8 July 1997, and Eric died from leukaemia on 28 October 1999. The bandmates kept in contact right to the end. "Of course," says Didier, matter-of-factly. "We were friends and we shared the same dreams. Raymond was more and more exhausted by liver cancer. I do not know the exact details, but it did not prevent him from making three albums including two with Eric for Greenhorns before the cancer won. Soon after, Eric too succumbed, with another kind of cancer - leukaemia. It was all very sad."
This collection is rounded off by a live-in-the-rehearsal-room version of 'March Of The Dead', "probably recorded in 1985, but I'm sorry, I can't really remember the exact date now," suggests the guitarist.
"We had a friend Junao [Martins"> the guitarist of Ostrogoth and Hermetic Brotherhood," says Alain, "and he had a four-track recorder. He came to the rehearsal room and recorded it - one take, no overdubs (except the voice at the beginning he did himself), and then he mixed it and gave us a tape and that was that. I never believed that it would be on a record one day," he laughs, "but it is really good - you can feel the atmosphere, the feeling that we had playing together. The solo parts are so awesome, it's a flying machine! How Raymond and Eric are following the solo and give all those nuances to lend more power to the guitar solo... Well, for me," he concludes simply, "it's a masterpiece."