El Ritual, El Ritual (1971)
Prescient in playing off cultist truisms, progressive in its arrangements of keys, flute and vocal melodies, and yet still delivering a heavy punch of blues when called upon to do so, the 1971 self-titled debut from Tijuana’s El Ritual has all the makings of a lost classic, but I’m not entirely sure it’s actually ever been lost. It’s hard as an American to properly gauge that kind of thing, because one has to keep in mind colonial ideas of “discovery” like this band was just sitting around waiting for my gringo ass to find it. Hardly. Among other happenings during their relatively short time together, the four-piece El Ritual took part in the 1971 Festival Rock y Ruedas de Avándaro, which was arguably the biggest rock gathering Mexico ever held, and about which legend has it that, with the expectation that 25,000 people would show up, more than 10 times that number actually did, making it a landmark for an entire generation of Mexican rockers as well as those on the bill, which included El Ritual alongside compatriot outfits like Los Dug Dug’s and Peace and Love. It was — again, so the legend goes — a disturbing-enough showing of freaks and weirdos that the Mexican government moved to shut down counterculture events across the board. Too weird, too soon.
Which is funny, because listening to El Ritual‘s El Ritual, it certainly sounds like it’s right on time. With lyrics in English and titles in Spanish, it would seem to have had some intent toward international appeal, and the four-piece of vocalist/guitarist/flutist Frankie Barreño, bassist Gonzalo Chalo Hernández, keyboardist Martin Mayo and drummer Alberto Lalo Barceló more than stood up to that standard when it came to the actual scope of the record, whether it was the proggy keys and flute of opener “Mujer Fácil (Prostituta)” or the later pairing of the eight-minute cinema piece “Satanás” and “Peregrinación Satánica, Incluyendo el Poema ‘En un Principio'” which it’s hard to imagine Mexican church officials hearing even in the early ’70s and not shitting their pants, working as the tracks did in the tradition of cult rockers like Black Widow and Coven and all manner of proto-heavies from the international sphere to make the devil sound at once appalling and alluring in a manner that bands are still trying to emulate. Boogie rock shuffle and Zeppelin-style over-the-toppery with room for an extended drum solo ensued as the one led into the next, but even the devilish warnings of “Peregrinación Satánica” came with a surprisingly jazzy context, and as the earlier “La Tierra de que Te Hable” indulged strings and Greg Lake-era King Crimson-style vocal melodies (think “Epitaph”) before getting down to bluesier, funkier psych-rocking vibes distinguished by their organ work and backing chorus, and the later “Groupie” seemed to work out of the playbook of Latin-informed artists like Santana or War, who released their debuts in 1969 and 1970, respectively, the satanic aspects of El Ritual were only one element at work in the band’s broader profile, much as they may be what continues to resonate with underground listeners today.
No less pivotal overall was the way in which “Groupie” fed into the engaging organ jam of “Muerto e Ido,” on which Barreño‘s guitar took the fore late with a solo marked out by a shift into oddball electronic sounds and a return to the chorus that closed. Or how “Conspiración” found Barreño speaking about kids smoking grass in the park — seems relatively certain there were a few at Avándaro — and old people waiting to cash checks en route to guitar-checking the Rolling Stones and reminding listeners “There’s no life without love.” Or how “Bajo el Sol y Frente a Dios” nestled so easily into its brightly-harmonized and flute-tempered acousti-prog. Point is El Ritual had much more going on than any one or two tracks — or, for that matter, their moniker — might summarize on their own. The version of the album above, from what I can tell, follows the original Raff Records LP tracklisting and includes the single “Tabú” as a bonus track, as did the CD version through Raff Records, which of course came later. In 1987 and 1992 (according to Discogs) a label called Discos y Cintas Denver also issued El Ritual on LP and CD with the songs in a different order, putting “Satanás” and “Peregrinación Satánica” together at the top of the tracklisting. Fair enough, as they’re bound to grab attention either way. I tend to like the flow of the original, but I wouldn’t fight you if you were handing me a copy of the other version, telling me I could take it home for the archive.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
Neither an easy nor a particularly pleasant week. I spent most of it swapping back and forth between anxiety and despondency, just trying to keep my head on straight. Sucks to think Roadburn is still about two months away. I’m feeling like that get-right-with-your-gods pilgrimage is just the thing I need at this point. No doubt that will still be the case in April.
My weekends have been good though. Lot of together-time with The Patient Mrs., quiet or with family. She’s going to Texas on Saturday for a conference, so it’ll just be me and the Little Dog Dio for the bulk of next week. I expect to be lonely and to watch a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Maybe a Werner Herzog movie or two. That’s usually how it goes.
Still, next week is madness through and through. Here’s what’s in my notes so far:
Mon.: Weedeater giveaway, info on the next The Obelisk Presents show (it’s Rozamov in Brooklyn), and a Stone Machine Electric review.
Tue.: Alunah track premiere/album review, news about the new The Sonic Dawn, and a Svuco video.
Wed.: Forming the Void video premiere, The Mad Doctors album announce and track premiere, and an Arbouretum review.
Thu.: Rozamov album review and new video from Shadow Witch.
Fri.: My Sleeping Karma live album review and new video from Black Mirrors.
That’s a lot of shit. And news besides. Goodness gracious. One might almost think I was purposefully overloading my schedule to make up for being lonely with my wife gone for a few days. Nah. Couldn’t possibly be it.
Alright, I’m checkin’ out early. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Watch your back out there, these are strange fucking times. But still, have fun and we’ll see you back here Monday for more riffly shenanigans. Thanks for reading, and please check out the forum and radio stream.