Arriving some three years after their self-released A Dialogue with the Dimensions EP, the second shEver full-length, Rituals, lives up to its name. It doesn’t feel out of line to assume the band’s name is a play on the word “shiver” meant to emphasize that all four members of the Swiss outfit are women, with the odd-capitalization in their logo making the point even clearer, but more interesting to me than their gender is the scope of doom and darkened sludge shEver cover. The first-name-only lineup of drummerSarah, vocalist Alexandra, bassist/violinist/backing vocalist Nadine and guitarist/backing vocalist Jessica wind their way through a bleak and often dirge-minded atmosphere, but there are looks in the direction of ‘90s-style doom that show up in tracks like “Delirio” to change up the approach, and screams intermingle with cleaner vocals in ambient parts while the band reels before unleashing their next assault. Rituals, which is released through TotalRust Music, is thoroughly doomed despite any variations/deviations that occur in style. Riffs lead the way almost exclusively, backed by Nadine’s thick bass and punctuated by the crash ofSarah’s lowly-mixed cymbals. The album is under-produced. Those cymbals are part of it, but I have a hard time imagining both the bass and drums don’t also come across thicker live, and that Alexandra’s screams, which sound muted here as “Je Suis Née” reaches its nonetheless punishing apex, aren’t fuller in another setting. Still, the rawness helps quitter stretches feel all the more dismal, and for the parts of Ritualswhere shEver are more directly sludge in their approach, it makes it that much nastier. The six extended tracks of the 50-minute offering are more consistent as well with that line drawn between them.
In case you were wondering exactly what kind of Rituals the band was thinking of when titling the album, opener “Ritual of Chaos” makes it plain, with malevolent whispers and quiet creepy parts trading off with screams, growls and clean backing vocals all at once. It may be that the band is throwing everything out there at once, but if so, it’s effective in conveying the breadth of the album overall. There are few surprises in store afterwards, but the fullness of the atmosphere that “Ritual of Chaos” constructs is affirmed in the other tracks, which are doomed enough to make early Paradise Lost blush and righteous in their heaviness despite whatever already-noted production issues persist. Before the opener is through, shEver have moved from ambient guitars to double-kick drumming, and done so smoothly while also challenging the listener to follow them. A major strength of Rituals is its challenging side, and “Delirio” – which also tops eight minutes – works quickly to enhance it with death growls and vicious higher-pitched screams atop a lumbering riff that persists loud for the first minute before moving into a more ambient incarnation of the same progression; an effective loud/quiet tradeoff and not the last to come. “Delirio” gradually rebuilds its crash and subsides again, once more hitting a satisfying peak as the song comes to a close,Jessica changing up the guitar to subtly add a shot of adrenaline. The following “Je Suis Née” is the shortest track on Rituals at 7:17 and dedicated largely to interpretations built around one riff and one tempo. Needless to say, its plod is substantial as a result, and though by now they’ve well established their pastiche, shEver move into probably their sludgiest territory yet – that riff is a beast and Alexandra’s screams are the stuff of damaged vocal cords. As with a lot of sludge, they run into trouble winding the track down, but when in doubt, drop everything else out and let the guitar ring out into a fade. Works like a charm.
“Souls Colliding” is perhaps the most satisfying blend of ambience and crushingness shEver have on offer with their second album. Even in its quiet beginning minutes, the sound is fuller, and the use of melodic vocals both enriches the atmosphere and adds to the build. The song is basically divided into three parts – an initial opening quiet stretch until about 2:45, louder riffing over which screams/growls are introduced until about eight minutes in, and then a cello-topped outro for the last 90 seconds – but though shEver have shown little concern for the trappings of verses and choruses throughout Rituals, “Souls Colliding” leaves a stark impression with its linear movement. Not quite engaging, but impressive anyway for its lack of capitulation and for how well it leads into the more straightforward “(You are) the Mirror,” which features more well-used clean vocals and a tortured riff that would be positively agonizing if there were anything positive about it at all. They push the track into extreme metal in the second half, punishing growls and screams joining together for an abrasive onslaught driven by more double-kick drums and a faster rhythm, and if closer “Tha He Na Te” brings anything new to Rituals while also being its final statement, it’s a palpable tension throughout its nine-plus minutes that finally gets paid off nearly eight minutes into the song. Prior to that, “Tha He Na Te” is stomach-churning, but shEver do are long since acquainted with that which discomforts their audience by now. The closer never really explodes as it otherwise might – thanks in part to the low drums, which would really be what drives that change – but Rituals ends satisfyingly nonetheless with incantations of the title line from Alexandraand an unraveling of the instruments behind her. Ultimately, there’s not much about shEver’s sophomore album that’s groundbreaking, but for residing in a genre, the band also feels comfortable moving from one side of it to another, and the interspersed clean and harsh vocals do an excellent job of keeping the songs from seeming redundant, which they might otherwise, moving between similar stretches of quiet and loud.Rituals won’t be for everyone, but good doom never has been.