Atriarch spread their darkness, face death, oppressive forces on murky ‘An Unending Pathway’

AtriarchI don’t know why so many people smile so much, and probably the most irritating thing in the world is when someone tells you not to look so glum. Cheer up, buddy! I feel like people who live that have completely isolated themselves from reality because, if you take a long, hard look at society, things suck regularly, and we are forced to endure a series of endless mental beatings.

Politicians play games with people’s lives and well-being, nothing is more important than money, and you need to have all the latest shit otherwise your life and presence are meaningless. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but that’s a large dose of reality, and a band like Atriarch has a firm stranglehold on the dimmest, most oppressive angles of life. As a result, their music wallows in darkness. You might find that when tackling their work, you feel like a mentally beaten shell of yourself, lying somewhere in a dingy basement while a leaky pipe drips cold water on your forehead in the most irritating example of waterboarding ever. Yes, this Portland death/doom union recognizes those awful realities that surround us, and they aim to tear out of their shells and grasp onto whatever remnants of their spirits and psyche remain in order to overcome all the horrors. They’ve done that over two excellent full-lengths–2011 debut “Forever the End” and 2012’s “Ritual of Passing”–and that sentiment carries over on their devastating third opus (and first for Relapse) “An Unending Pathway.”

Atriarch coverAtriarch’s music certainly stands out in the extreme music world, and in the metal community in particular. As noted, there is heavy doom and strains of death throughout the band’s music, but there also are elements of deathrock and goth rock to be felt, which make the proceedings even blacker. Lenny Smith’s unmistakable, anguished croon sits out in front of this band, as he wails away and tries to find strength in the worst of times. Along with him are guitarist Brooks Blackhawk, bassist Joe Wickstrom (a newcomer since their last record), and drummer Maxamillion, who round out this formidable, imposing group that’s here to drop the hammer on that which holds us back and refuse to piss on the eternal funeral pyre of those very ideals that cause us harm.

Opener “Entropy” begins with eerie, chilling noises, an ominous sign of what’s ahead. The band lurches on, finding some morbid power in such a dank environment, and Smith’s later charge of, “We are all God’s children, and we are all condemned,” puts a bloody exclamation point on the thing before it dissolves into chaos. “Collapse” is dreary and cold, with Smith warbling, “An endless soul, a dying soul, there is no ending and no beginning,” as the band finds a sense of primitive savagery. Later the singing gets slurry before fierce shouts emerge, and the conclusion of the song is just pulverizing. “Revenant” rings out, stinging your ears, before drums take a militaristic approach and Smith unleashes a ferocious growl that’s far different from his typical nasal croon and snarl. The song bleeds slowly in spots, with some beastly moments here and there and vocal torment strangling you at the end. “Bereavement” is a total mauler, something you don’t always get form this band, with the guys unloading an unforgiving assault and the vocals just retching. It eventually evens out, with the singing getting cleaner, the playing getting gothier, and the emotions delivered via hammer, but much of this is as heavy as Atriarch get.

“Rot” is the longest song on the record, running 7:27, and it has a clean, foggy opening, with voices swirling and threatening. Smith imagines a simplistic death and even tidier aftermath of returning to ash, as he howls, “So when I die, bury me here, with no casket or trinkets from life, I’ll decompose into the Earth so the cycle is whole.” The track is utterly dark but also has a bizarre positivity of one man accepting and relishing his role in a natural life cycle. “Allfather” begins misleading, with a calm, even tranquil start before the track erodes, complete with Smith’s vocals registering vicious growls. The song is psychologically gory, with the band building layers of sound on top of each other, and every time you think it’s slowing down, it tears gaping new holes in everything and spits rage. Closer “Veil” is both full of anguish and ripping with terror. Smith goes back and forth from harsh death-like howls to purposely monotone warbling, while the band delivers an assault that’s awash in punk and doom, with noise shimmering. As the track reaches its end, it sizzles and erodes, letting melting pieces of metallic shrapnel fall by the wayside, before it eventually returns to the same noise soup that opens the record. It’s sort of like the album itself is accepting of death and bringing on its own demise.

At first, Atriarch’s music might make you wallow even deeper in the muck and make you wonder if there is any way out. But don’t ignore the band’s defiance, strength, and anger. They are lashing out, trying to affect change within themselves, and refusing to be weighed down by life’s bullshit. Maybe that isn’t always possible, but we must try. Use “An Unending Pathway” as a guide, if you must, and find out if the music and emotions conveyed on these seven tracks don’t cause your blood to rise, your fists to clench, and your will to survive to push against whatever holds us back.

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