Album Review: Deaf Havana - RITUALS

Words by Maddy Howell

Upon the release of their fourth studio album, 'All These Countless Nights' in January of last year, it was distinctly obvious that Norfolk sweethearts Deaf Havana had stumbled onto something both groundbreaking and genre-shaping. Hitting the UK albums chart in fifth place, the record fully established the quintet as a familiar face within the UK alternative scene, easily recognisable from their anthemic choruses and self-reflective songwriting.

With the events of 2017 now being forever labeled as their 'peak' by critics and peers alike, the moment seemed apt for the band to venture out onto something new, which is exactly what fifth album 'RITUALS' sets out to do. As Deaf Havana hit reset on their story, disregarding the majority of the tried and tested formulas that pushed them into the public eye, it's easy to recognise that this endeavor is something their heart is truly set within.

After a swift intro delivered by London Contemporary Voices Choir, the transition into lead single Sinner is seamless. A straight-forward synth-packed pop track, filled to the brim with catchy hooks and eclectic group vocals, it's instantly clear just how Deaf Havana are switching up the formula this time around. But as the handclaps progress and the choir-sung outro of the track rings out, there seems to be something intriguingly celebratory about the whole affair.

Celebrations well and truly sparked, once the party is started it's difficult to draw the festivities to a close. With a firm hold on their pop sensibilities, leaving their more rock-inspired moments on the back-burner for the time being, it's refreshing to finally see the band fully embrace the poppier melodies that have always been so prevalent in their work. Reminiscent of One Direction's later work, tracks such as Ritual and Fear showcase a much more radiant side of the quintet, with glimpses of their familiar sound still apparent and blended in flawlessly.

However, though it's simple pop sensibilities and synth-laden hooks add brilliantly to the celebratory feel of the record, it would be foolish to write off its 45-minute entirety as a last-ditch attempt to cash in on their already established success with a 'safe' effort. Tracks such as Saint and Epiphany showcase a much more technically focused band, with a cacophony of synths, string and the talents of the London Contemporary Voices Choir all pushing towards creating some clear album highlights.

Throughout the release, there's an overwhelming sense of both struggle and freedom to push the struggles aside. On Hell, Veck-Gilodi battles with memories of past love and the consequences of its downfall, whilst Holy projects a self-acceptance of these negative behaviors and a realisation that no one is perfect. These contrasting themes add to the record's turbulent yet ultimately triumphant feel, with the journey into a new musical world eased by the passion the band seemingly possess toward the shift.

Is it better to fake it on the album that everybody wants, or re-invent yourselves with a little more passion... There are clear pros and cons to both sides, but what is the purpose of art if it's lacking in honesty? 'RITUALS' may not be the album anyone expected nor specifically required from Deaf Havana, but it's clearly the album they were ready to make. For its unashamed honesty and passion to embrace change alone, this release may garner more respect than anything else in the quintet's back catalogue. Though at times 'RITUALS' can verge on cliche, and it's seemingly lucid pop melodies can seem half-hearted to some, it's no doubt that this is a release packed with fervor. Having topped their game and brought everyone along for the ride, it's time Deaf Havana stuck to their hearts for a little while.