by Oliver Sheppard
Portland doom metal band Atriarch have taken a gothic turn since their split earlier this year with San Francisco’s Alaric. Although still solidly anchored to a doom metal-y rhythm section — complete with ponderous, stomping drums and trudging bass guitar — on the band’s new LP, Ritual of Passing, the vocals have taken on an increasingly Rozz Williams style of wailing, and the guitars more and more evince an influence by Rikk Agnew and Eva O (although there are still plenty of ‘tolling bells of doom’-type downtuned, crunchy guitar arrangements). At their Facebook page, Atriarch describe themselves as “blackened deathrock/doom,” and that is as good a phrase to describe their hybrid style as any I have seen. Ritual of Passing combines elements of early 80s LA deathrock with downtempo European doom metal.
As with Pinkish Black’s self-titled LP that came out earlier this year, the pounding, mastodon-like rhythm section seems produced with an eye to keeping the band’s metal roots firmly on display, and also as with Pinkish Black there is a kind of sludgy Swans-esque feel to some of the arrangements. In fact, Pinkish Black’s approach to music treads this same dark metal/noise-meets-gothic rock territory.
The production on Ritual of Passing is top-notch. Although fellow black metal/deathrock crossover band Circle of Ouroborus is one possible sonic point of reference, Atriarch’s songs are not recorded at demo quality, as CoO’s songs are. Ritual of Passing is produced well; all the instruments, vocals, and sound effects stand cleanly out, spread far apart from one another.
As well, a shadowy, ritualistic atmosphere hangs heavy over the whole LP. The excellent track “Altars” (above) is the most Christian Death-like on the album, like something off either Christian Death’s Path of Sorrows or Only Theatre of Pain, with occasional, great Middle Eastern flourishes in the guitar lines that impart an occult feel to the track’s overall incantatory atmosphere. Most tracks hover around the 6 minute mark; “Cursed” passes seven minutes and is another downtempo doomer with echoing, deathrock-style vocals.
I like the overall sonic progression of Atriarch’s sound, from the earliest, more purely doom metal releases to their new hybrid of doom metal and deathrock with an overarching minimalist gothic aesthetic. There is a psychedleic, dark ambient feel to some of the tracks, as on the last one, “Outro/Lucifer Speaks with Death,” comprised of a grim meditation voiced over a hellish soundscape that Lustmord might be pleased to make. Overall, Ritual of Passing starts off metallic — the opening track “Parasite” is the most traditionally metallic song on the LP — delves into a more atmospheric, deathrock-influenced territory by the middle of the release (“Altars,” “Altruist”), and ends on a meditative and somber black ambient note. It’s a fitting summation of Atriarch’s musical career to date. In my experience, metal fans are much more open to other styles of music than are folks who are primarily into deathrock — that is, while you will find many metal fans that are willing to give gothic rock, punk, and postpunk a chance, you will not find many fans of deathrock or postpunk that are willing to do the same with metal, even if many “post-black metal” bands are forging new territory by adapting aspects of these non-metal genres into their style (Alcest, Hateful Abandon, etc.). This is a shame, and I fear it will limit Atriarch’s appeal only to fans of metal, instead of introducing them to a newer, more deathrock-centric audience.
Whatever the case, Atriarch’s Ritual of Passing is an unusual, well-made, (and unusually well-made) innovative record that I hope heralds more good music in this vein to come. It’s the kind of thing I’d just as readily recommend to fans of Rikk Agnew’s work, Christian Death, and Voodoo Church as I would to fans of early Katatonia, Woods of Ypres, or Funeral from Norway. A few weeks ago CVLT Nation interview the Portland band here.