Words & Images Jonny Hays
2023: the 20th Anniversary of the Download festival and a rite of passage for Rituals, the Newcastle hard rockers who found themselves on the Download stage this year almost in disbelief after a surreal month…
As with any journey through the ranks of Rock and Roll, Rituals’ story begins with a small detail. “Everything building up to it was the most un-rock and roll story possible” recalls Rituals frontman Lewis “It was literally Ewan (guitarist) on his way to work on the bus seeing a Facebook post ” though rather than idly scrolling Ewan would transport Rituals on the road to playing Download in front of eight and a half thousand people. The post was for “The Deal” – Kerrang radio’s competition where hundreds of hungry bands compete for an invaluable prize: a hyper-speed hike up to high profile – a contract with Marshall Records, studio time and what could be the Holy Grail for disciples of the mosh pit, playing Download festival.
Unlike talent competitions as they reside in the public consciousness – stale, saturated, filtered and sanitised with a predictable sob story earning the win, “The Deal” is an authentic battle of the bands with music as the deciding factor.
Hundreds of acts entered ‘The Deal’ competition before 50 finalists were whittled down for the public vote. After five rounds of heats, the final 10 acts had their songs judged by a panel that included Marshall Records; Download and Kerrang! Radio.
“If we had got through to the final ten we’d have been over the moon with that” says Lewis. Happily for Rituals they didn’t sink without a trace and not only did they reach the final ten; Rituals would surface triumphant, surfing to victory with their thunderous anthem “Oceans Subside”.
After their unexpected win, the pace of the band quickened. Lewis vividly recounts the feeling of compressed time “It might have been three weeks but it felt like five years” Lewis recalls “things were happening every day”. Before securing “The Deal” Rituals were already in the process of recording an EP however, Marshall Records upheld their side of the bargain signing Rituals and getting them in the studio to furiously finish recording their coming EP “I found myself in the Dark”. And just three short weeks after finding out they bagged the deal Rituals were backstage ready to drop their riffs on the unsuspecting Download crowd. “It’s definitely a new phase for the band and a very different place than we were in a year ago,” says Lewis with characteristic understatement.
“We’d been touring relatively extensively for a band at our level,” says Lewis. Rituals had been busily building a fan base playing 48 gigs across the country in 2022 however playing a jaw-dropping set at Download was not on the calendar this year “The Deal’s sort of kick-started that”.
”We relentlessly rehearse our set anyway, regardless of whether we’re playing shows so we were in a pretty good position to give the performance that we would have always wanted to give at a festival that size.” – Matt (drums). Having laid this solid foundation, it was the same Rituals that would come out ready to rouse the crowd and refuse to regret anything. “We’d never played a show of that size but I think it was the most comfortable we’ve all been in front of a crowd. It just made sense. I think we were collectively more nervous for the headline show in Newcastle a week before, it’s such a smaller setting playing for 120 of our friends and family but you get the feeling that everyone is going to go through it with more of a fine tooth comb. Being able to stand on a stage and it’s just a crowd as far as you can see and everyone is just loving it it’s just a total dream come true”
On the cusp of success before breaking through the reality for many bands is that of wearing many additional hats promoter, booking agent, social media – and with opportunities like this come more work but the real grassroots bands like Rituals are steaming ahead, and as we chat the band is keeping the momentum with Rituals neck deep in organising their tour of Ireland. Lewis admits that they are collectively feeling the workload however they are all on the same page when it comes to pushing on to the next level.
Matt’s in agreement that Europe is the next move and in the long term they are looking to the States to move some air in front of the many Spotify listeners they have there.
And as for the band, their dream tour would be supporting Slipknot.
“Rituals has the broad aspect of a metal band… but we channel different influences” Lewis
If you’re a fan of I Prevail, Wage War or Ghost Inside then you will be head-banging along with Rituals right from the moment the riff of “Living Blind”, their latest release bursts in after a deep moody synth intro. On “Show Me The Signs” Rituals are able to bring that same energy to a different tempo a snappy drum beat in the verses lifting to a rich chorus. It’s like high-octane heavy metal fuel for followers of rock and food for metal fanatics.
Check out “I found myself in the Dark”, the new release by Rituals with a launch party for the release at Blondies in London on the 4th of August.