Jim Brandon’s take:
Change is essential for progression, even if the foundation remains the same. For instance, the lead-off track to The Ritual Fires Of Abandonment by my Chicago neighbors Minsk, instantly separates itself from promising predecessor Out Of A Center, Which Is Neither Dead Nor Alive by taking a slightly different approach as an intro. Shifting from a whisper to nearly “Die Eir von Satan” rigid percussion at first, things almost immediately mellow and glide into a smooth tribal beat accented by floating bass guitar, and throaty, serenely stoned vocals. The voice gradually becomes more urgent, and the inevitable explosion takes place as “Embers” finally roars into full-on metallic life without breaking stride from its initial hypnotic rhythm. The more restrained beginning represents the growth in Minsk, and blooms as time passes.
It isn’t until many minutes later with the raging “White Wings” that Minsk brings back oppressive heaviness and painful groove in a more full-on way for a longer period of time. Overall, I’d say The Ritual Fires…is reliant more on resolute songwriting than guitar-driven power, with Minsk preferring to let the natural flow of the music shine through, and using more aggressive passages for color. While this might seem no different than any other atmospheric, oceanic band, what separates this band from peers such as the fantastic Across Tundras is their exceptional ability to make time fly due to the intelligently calculated, expressive nuances that embellish each moment of this disc. The minutes just vanish with no resistance, but each of those minutes has meaning.
Minimalism is explored in depth while still maintaining their skillful method of composing purposeful material, like with the brooding, hypnotic opening to “The Orphans Of Piety” where Timothy Mead, Christopher Bennett, and Sanford Parker’s mid-ranged voices blend and mesh soulfully with clean, steadfast melody. Traces of youthful, furious Peter Steele and Glenn Danzig appear when the music reaches a rhythmic boiling point, and combined with the richness of the guitar tones and the clarity and natural feel of the drums it makes for a strikingly easy listen. Everything has a purpose and direction, yet stays expansive and breathable.
Even though this album isn’t as heavy as the one before it, when things do become more intense, Mead and Parker implement equally harrowing synths that reach a rather sense-numbing crescendo during “The Orphans…”. Effortlessly, they then give a vibe of complete peace and relaxation through “Circle Of Ashes”, and leading into the first part of “Ceremony ek Stasis” which begins a slow build towards a thundering yet kaleidoscopic ending, with a ghostly salsa segue and stylish saxophone courtesy of Bruce Lamont (Yakuza). All the while Tony Wyioming lays down tasteful percussion that keeps things in an unending state of fluid motion, proving himself to be essentially vital to the magic the band creates, if not the most valuable in the whole scheme of things.
In the end, I cannot bring myself to compare The Ritual Fires Of Abandonment to any previous Minsk material, nor that of Isis, Pelican, Neurosis, or Cult Of Luna, for this is simply an outstanding example of the genre that must be heard to be completely understood. The proper words to describe just what excellence the band has achieved, perhaps for Wyioming’s stellar, understated drumming performance alone, still escape me after numerous attempts to capture the feeling of this superb effort. Is it too early to pick an Album Of The Year? I’d call this almost mandatory.
Jason Jordan’s take:
I’d be able to rate The Ritual Fires of Abandonment a lot higher if I didn’t like Minsk’s sophomore record Out of a Center Which Is Neither Dead Nor Alive so damn much. The band’s upgrade to Relapse was a wise move, I’m sure, but it’s unfortunate that their third outing is less exciting than their At a Loss predecessor even if it’s not radically different.
Similar to Out of a Center, The Ritual Fires of Abandonment is yet another example of how to do Neur-Isis worship well, and though the dichotomies present on the former (slow/fast, drifting/crashing, etc.) remain intact on the latter, they’ve been lessened to a certain degree. Overall, Minsk seem more laid back this time around, but have not, uh, abandoned their wandering, tribal nature. Songs like “Embers,” “The Orphans of Piety,” and “Ceremony ek Statis” sprawl for ages, but manage to avoid tedium almost effortlessly, while shorter ones such as the boisterous, upbeat “White Wings,” serene instrumental “Mescaline Sunrise,” and mix-between-the-two “Circle of Ashes” make the record an easier listen by providing breathers among more lengthy numbers, which helps set a comfortable pace. Lamont’s (Yakuza) occasional saxophone passages are a nice touch, once again, but are used sparingly.
What’s the problem then? Well, though I’d come up empty-handed if asked to point out major flaws, Minsk have followed a great record with a good one. That’s it. The Ritual Fires of Abandonment will please those who enjoyed Burning and Out of a Center Which Is Neither Dead Nor Alive, but it’s not as captivating as I hoped – or perhaps expected – it would be. I just can’t envision myself returning to this album all that much, especially over their second installment.
Matthew Cooper’s take:
Minsk’s last effort, Out of a Center Which is Neither Dead Nor Alive, staked a damn convincing claim that the Chicago-based band were one of the most promising acts in the then burgeoning pack of Neurosis and Isis spawned up and comers. A few years ago, there seemed to be quite a few promising contenders, but it’s grown suspiciously quiet since then. Meanwhile, The Ritual Fires of Abandonment proves that Minsk is among the very top of the heap, especially at the heavy end of the spectrum, as mainstays like Isis and Cult of Luna continue to gravitate toward a more accessible sound. Ritual Fires shows that the band is continuing to develop its voice, and has further established their identity by adding their own stamp to the influence of their forbears and also moving to push both themselves and the style into new directions. Although Out of a Center was a quality album front to back, and seems to be on the whole an equal to its successor, Ritual Fires is a more balanced album. There is less reliance on traditional rise and fall dynamics on each track, but a wider view of the entirety of the hour-long collection shows how well Ritual Fires flows as an album. By allowing songs to fill more distinct roles, Minsk have crafted an album that ebbs and flows as a near seamless work rather than as discrete tracks.
Marathon opener “Embers” signals the band’s new intent, maintaining a psychedelic ‘prying-open-my-third-eye/ride-the-snake” haziness with faded, bleary-eyed clean vocals (clean vocals are much more prevalant this time around) for long stretches with minimal pushing into the expected cathartic abrasiveness. The texture of the slurred, percussive-heavy intro section alone sounds like radiating acid tracers. On the second track the band leans forward onto its front foot and draws blood with the heavy “White Wings”. Despite its red herring intro, this shorter track serves a reverse image of its predecessor, focusing on aggression with moments of quieter, airy lucidness. Although this type of track analysis serves the purpose of example, in truth it amounts to nothing more than drawing lines where none are needed. The Ritual Fires of Abandonment is a sprawling, deeply textured epic that demands to be consumed as a whole. The songs end and begin again in near seamless fashion, especially the two instrumentals (“Mescaline Sunrise” and “Circle of Ashes”) that bookend “Orphans of Piety”, another of the marathon-length tracks, and the song that most closely resembles the work of the last album.
But it’s the majestic album closer (and the third of the epic-length numbers) “Ceremony ek Stasis”, that serves as the single best example that Minsk are evolving and, equally exciting, that this is a band capable of creating exciting music for a long time to come. As much as people tend to compare bands of this ilk with Neurosis and Isis—two bands that don’t sound much alike these days–those comparisons come more from those bands’ seminal works and influence, and less often from direct similarities. Minsk doesn’t necessarily sound like either band, yet they ably capture both ends of seemingly opposing approaches; namely, a crushing tribal abrasiveness associated with Neurosis and the lush, layered melodies used by Isis, and top it off with their own progressive slant. There are wires and circuits protruding every which way from the band’s organic, tribal musculature, as Minsk’s spiritual, passionate humanness is undergirded by a consistently radiating swirl of electronic ambience. One of the most compelling things about this band is the tremendous balance of their sound. No one element takes center stage, making it easy to appreciate the collective effort of disparate contributions of the players, but also to become entranced by one particular element, and whether it’s the vocals, riffs, percussion, or ambience may vary from person to person and/or from listen to listen. Half the reward of this album is not only how the songs shift to build and climax, but how the musicians’ lines deftly converge and diverge again.
Although the review is already getting too long, it would be remiss not to recognize the contributions of some collaborators. Bassist/vocalist Sanford Parker, who became a full time band member while he was recording Out of a Center, turns in another of what’s becoming a lengthy list of strong production efforts. Bruce Lamont, of fellow Chicago-based experimentalists Yakuza again adds some great guest sax work on “Orphans of Piety” and “Ceremony ek Stasis”, along with judiciously utilized supporting vocals from Gladys Couri and Taryn Parker. Finally, the band steps up to the plate again when it comes to packaging, using an impressive layout from Orion Landau. The vibrant colors and details of the artwork are a fitting contrast to the darker, subtle approach used on Out of a Center. That seems about right, and brings us to a fitting conclusion. The Ritual Fires of Abandonment may or may not be a better album than Out of a Center Which is Neither Dead Nor Alive—it’s too early to tell, and that’s not really what’s important anyway. What is important is that the two albums work very well as complements and that Minsk have birthed another fantastic album and taken a step into a new direction that hints at this band’s impressive potential.