Personnel: Paul Bancell (vocals, guitar); Christopher Samuels (synthesizer, drum machine, sampler).
Recording information: Hamtramck Sound Studios, Hamtramck, MI, USA.
Just as Turkish Leather smoothed some of the edges off of Ritual Howls' self-titled debut, Into the Water further refines the band's sound, allowing them to discover some new shades of black along the way. The newfound control they bring to their atmospheric death rock is most apparent on the album's poppiest songs: The darkly catchy "Park Around the Corner" is one of many showcases for Paul Bancell's commanding vocals, while "Nervous Hands" is gloriously doomy ("From painted lips/Words are spoken" is a lyric so quintessentially goth it's a wonder it hasn't been written already). "Scatter the Scars" is one of Ritual Howls' finest songs yet, a shadowy, slinky invocation that recalls the band's '80s and '90s forebears as well as Two Lone Swordsmen's electro-billy period in its mix of brittle beats and spectral slide guitars. This otherworldly twang gives Into the Water an edge that's as surprising as it is welcome on songs such as "Bound by Light," where it makes for a striking contrast with the track's industrial beat. While the catchier songs are so strong that it's tempting to say Ritual Howls should focus on them alone, Into the Water also serves as a reminder of how good they are at plumbing eldritch depths on the swampy "Coils and Magnets" or the nine-minute finale "Going Upstate," which uses their fondness for found sounds and sampling in particularly dread-inspiring fashion. Here and throughout Into the Water, Ritual Howls balance mood and melody so ably, it's clear they've discovered how to put the evil in evolution. ~ Heather Phares