Deaf Havana – ‘Rituals’

By Gem Rogers

It sometimes seems impossible for anyone to talk about anything Deaf Havana do without mentioning “That Lineup Change”. It’s understandable – it was a major event for any band and is possibly one of the best examples of how to handle losing a vocalist – but to continue to dwell on it does a disservice to the superb catalogue of music they have built in the eight years since. With two top ten albums under their belts since 2013, they have shown impressive growth, and aren’t letting up as they prepare to release their fifth album only 18 months after ‘All These Countless Nights’. 

‘Rituals’ brings a change in direction for the Norfolk group, with front man James Veck-Gilodi stating that the new material “might alienate some people”. The first few singles have made clear that they are moving towards a more commercial pop sound – and while it’s bound to meet resistance from some older fans, if done right, there’s huge scope to attract a new wave of listeners.

Setting the tone immediately, a choir-led intro track is jolted suddenly into lead single ‘Sinner’ – and although the transition could probably be a little smoother, it’s easy to forget once immersed in this joyous tune. A positive acceptance of human failures accompanied by handclap moments, delicious basslines and a gospel choir, it’s certainly poppy, but it’s not a significant departure from the Deaf Havana we’re familiar with.  

That pop music is somehow a lesser genre can be a common opinion among a certain type of guitar music fan – and no doubt comments of a similar sort will be aimed at ‘Rituals’ – yet the crafting of a truly great pop song in an over-saturated market is an art in itself. Through the first half of the album, Deaf Havana prove they have the skill to do just that. The style may have changed, but their honest, storytelling lyrics remain, full of the soul Veck-Gilodi’s vocals bring.

Musically, it’s atmospheric, radio friendly, and frequently upbeat – there are times, though, where there’s an over-reliance on the kind of vocal effects that are already inescapable in modern pop (thanks, Skrillex). Songs like ‘Holy’ and ‘Fear’ are essentially the aural love children of Bastille and Justin Bieber – not that this should be considered a bad thing, but it’s not going to be for everyone. 

A more familiar Deaf Havana sound makes an appearance on a few tracks – particularly ‘Evil’ and ‘Saviour’, though the rhyming of “save you” and “saviour” in the latter’s chorus is clunky, to say the least. By the time twelfth track ‘Saint’ rolls around, the pace has dropped off considerably and it’s difficult to keep interest; fortunately, the beautiful harmonies and return of the gospel choir make this a superb song to close with before the epilogue-esque ‘Epiphany’.

‘Rituals’ is not an album without flaws. Dotted with forgettable tracks and a tendency to border on repetition in places, it isn’t their finest work – it has the feel of being rushed, which is perhaps not too surprising considering the short space of time it was written and recorded in. When it’s good, though, ‘Rituals’ is truly brilliant; there’s more than enough reason to be excited by this new chapter in the Deaf Havana story.  

GEM ROGERS

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