Review of Alaric/Atriarch split on 20 Buck Spin
by Oliver Sheppard
The release of the 5-song, split 12″ between Alaric and Atriarch on May 15, 2012 marks an interesting turn-of-the-page in what we may well be able to call the second deathrock revival. (I put the dates of the first revival at a debatable 1998 until about 2004, from the establishment of Release the Bats in Los Angeles until the over-saturation of cartoony “deathrocker as alt-model” imagery that followed the dissolution of great bands like the Subtonix and Phantom Limbs, and which came part and parcel with the lamentable rise of comic book bands like the Cruxshadows and AFI — both bands whose music was and is embarrassing.) The Atriarch-Alaric split contains 5 songs total, and label 20 Buck Spin has made two of those songs available on Youtube. (See below). The Atriarch-Alaric split 12″ split is highly recommended.
Alaric are a product of the Bay Area through and through: the band’s pedigree includes members from bands like Noothgrush, Dead and Gone, and fellow dark punkers Cross Stitched Eyes (who also have an LP coming out soon on Alternative Tentacles). Alaric’s bassist played in a band with Dave Ed of Neurosis (The Enemies). These ingredients do all come through, somehow — mainly in the dark and funereal overtones of Alaric’s sound on their three songs here, buoyed by the excellent, stomping, and dirge-like drumming of Jason Willer. Willer’s work on the skins is part tribal war dance, part funeral march.
Alaric’s Myspace page notes the band was formed in 2008 to “thoroughly investigate the textures, energies and vibrations of dark, guitar-driven music influenced by the Post-Punk and Death Rock that [the band members] loved so much,” and indeed the band’s Facebook page cites the influence of bands like Rudimentary Peni, Christian Death, Killing Joke, and Part 1. Although you can detect these influences in the mix, Alaric really are putting their own, unique stamp onto things. The music is mournful and gloomy, even downtempo at times (as in the third track, “Weep”), but is nonetheless compelling; the grooves are heavy and stomping, but are mediated by melancholic — even, at times, simply beautiful — melodies, especially in the second Alaric track, “So Far Down.” Lachrymal tones are wrung from the guitar, sometimes hinting at a spectral Eva O. (Superheroines) influence; these tones are wrought forth by way of a relentless application of flanger effects, and a soupy, inky, murky black atmosphere is created. One experiences an immersion in watery black textures as if drawn welcomingly into a drowning, slowly swirling, abyss. Alaric are a powerful unit and these 3 songs form a unique bookend to last year’s highly recommended self-titled LP, also on 20 Buck Spin, as here the band slow things down just a notch and introduce a new level of introspective complexity into their work. Dark, dark, dark. Dark, and nuanced. And damned good!
Atriarch, on the flip side, also bring some elements to the table that show an evolution in their sound. When you look at the band’s Myspace page, they classify themselves as a “Gothic / Metal / Punk” band and their Facebook page cites Christian Death and, appropriately, The Swans. In fact, the Atriarch track “Oblivion” (see below) has a a very clear Christian Death influence, and one can easily imagine the band playing in a lineup with Christian Death and Red Wedding in the heyday of the early 80s deathrock scene of Hollywood. Yes! There is an off-kilter, sort of deranged, vibe emanating from the two Atriarch tracks; just when the songs hook you in with the eerie atmospherics they explode into a kind of contemptuous, sneering shock attack, and then retreat quickly backwards into more spooky, theatrical territory. Atriarch are good at playing off the dynamics of this change-up, and as with the Alaric side of the LP, the Ariarch songs show the band developing a more sophisticated and nuanced style.
As with the new LP by Texas band Pinkish Black, which I reviewed earlier, there is an overriding Swans influence at play that cannot be denied. Instead of the glam and campy theatrics of bands like Specimen and Alien Sex Fiend, the take on deathrock that is peddled by Alaric, Atriarch, and Pinkish Black is more of the sort of gloom-heavy, art-damaged, off-kilter sort of dark noise that was made by bands like the early Swans, Part 1, and Rozz Williams’ heavier outings. The percussion on both the Atriarch and Alaric tracks is thunderous and pounding, but it proceeds at a stately, funereal pace. The type of “deathrock” played by Alaric, Atriarch, and Pinkish Black is a new development in the scheme of things. It eschews the cartoon horror rock of bands like Blitzkid or the Horror Pops — which, unfortunately to some, is what deathrock came to mean after about 2005 — and instead takes the term “deathrock” at its face value: rock that really is deathly. In line with that, this is a deliciously harrowing and somber release. It is deathly, melancholy music. It is a welcome sign to see bands explore this sonic territory, and to do it with influences like Neurosis or The Swans hovering so prominently in the background.
The Atriarch/Alaric split 12″ comes out May 15, 2012 on 20 Buck Spin (not April 17 as originally indicated) and is highly recommended. The bands have embarked on a West Coast USA tour in support of the release.
These are the dates so far:
4/10/2012 Highline – Seattle, WA w/ Bell Witch, Countdown to Armageddon
4/11/2012 Branx – Portland, OR
4/12/2012 Wondering Goat – Eugene, OR
4/13/2012 Submission – San Francisco, CA w/ Negative Standards, Swamp Witch
4/14/2012 First Church Of The Buzzard – Oakland, CA w/ Altar de Fey, Crimson Scarlet
4/15/2012 Blank Club – San Jose, CA w/ Swamp Witch