Over the past month, while on my big Halloween posting spree, I was trying to decide on whether to write about the L.A. “deathrock” thang, or just center on 45 Grave (since they were the most overtly “spooky” and “Halloween-y” band of the scene). I decided to be more focused, but wound up going back and listening to a lot of early Christian Death as a result (which is something I shoulda been doing on the regular anyway, but that’s another story). So when I was flitting about the infranet in between writing last week, I read Invisible Oranges’ writeup accompanying their stream of Atriarch’s new album Ritual of Passing. “Christian Death by way of Celtic Frost,” it read, and my reaction was a quick “oh sweet mother of pearl, I need to get on this NOW.”
And I can’t really better that description. That sums it up completely. Portland’s Atriarch aren’t just recreating the sound of early, Rozz Williams-led Christian Death—that’s an all-too-easy path to take, and one taken by any number of half-baked and overly-powdered goth fops who mistakenly focus on CD’s superficial elements and overlook the angular muscularity and strength of the band’s musical foundation. Instead, Atriarch has deftly used the template of blackened doom metal as a framework to evoke the same dark spirit that manifested during Christian Death’s most powerful moments.
Vocalist Lenny Smith effortlessly shifts between howling black metal screeches and vibrating chants to sardonic clean vocals and venomous spoken pieces. Meanwhile, guitarist Brooks Blackhawk matches him at every turn, building skeletal passages reminiscent of Seventeen Seconds/Faith-era Robert Smith and utilizing chiming tones out of the early Siouxsie & The Banshees playbook, before slamming into brooding and monolithic doom riffs and then shifting into buzzingly black metallic tremolo riffing.
And the rhythm section of bassist Damon Kelly and drummer Maxamillion keeps remarkable pace right along, matching Bauhausian bass lines with tribal pounding, before launching into frenetic accompaniment to Maxamillion’s blastbeats.
Lenny Smith’s lyrics, while steeped in the occult, take a very welcome detour from the typical glorification of Our Downstairs Neighbor and his demonic hordes. Instead, rather than channeling the quintessence of Satan (to steal a phrase), he uses the language of ritual to exhort and inspire the listener to rebel against the oppression of society and embrace each other as equals in the battle against that oppression.
“but there is a new faith created by men, and put in place to make us easy to control
but we were not born to serve, is out responsibility to fight
or shall we bear witness to this tyrrany?
control yourself, your thoughts are your own, open your mind
control yourself, your thoughts are your own
they can’t control your thoughts or actions”
“you are my brother, you are my father, you are my sister, you are my mother
you are my enemy, you are my lover, you are my enemy
power equals nothing, words are meaningless
you who are my enemy, i embrace you as my brother”
— Atriarch, “Altars”
Just powerful, powerful stuff. Removed from the all-too-frequent fey posturing of goth, backed by the fury of metal at its most eloquently practiced, and burning from the inside. This is Atriarch.