Rumors of deathrock’s uh, death, are greatly exaggerated. Pinkish Black proved it was still alive and well with their excellent self-titled debut earlier this year, and now Portland, Oregon’s Atriarch have knocked it out of the goddamn park with Ritual of Passing. This isn’t your granddaddy Rozz Williams’ deathrock though. While it might be built on a tortured foundation similar to what bands like Christian Death were putting down back in the day, Atriarch breaths new life into the genre by incorporating the musical vocabularies of doom and black metal into their approach, making their brand of diseased heaviness that much more, well, deathly.
I’ve always thought of deathrock as gothic rock’s uglier, meaner little brother, and Atriarch certainly fits the bill on Ritual of Passing. There’s a bit of sneering, snotty defiance in Lenny Smith’s vocals, mixed with agony and more than a hint of madness. The music itself is a twisted, Stygian blend of all the aforementioned genres, appropriately rough around the edges but informed equally by black metal’s total misanthropy and doom’s crawling sense of dread and despair, all with the macabre specter of ’80s deathrock hanging overhead. It’s the kind of album that creeps up on you slowly, like a killer ready to slip bloody piano wire around your soft, white throat before violently choking the life out of you.
The atmosphere of Ritual of Passing is stark and cold, recalling the production schemes incorporated by goth bands such as Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy, but possessed with a droning, body-breaking heaviness that brings out Atriarch’s more metallic attributes. The original gothic and deathrock bands were in many ways better at conjuring up a truly morbid feeling in the listener than most metal bands, certainly better than any band labeled “gothic metal,” and Atriarch have harnessed this perfectly to create something that’s both suffocating and funereal; an unstable, toxic soundscape that threatens to rupture at any moment. In fact, my favorite aspect of Ritual of Passing might be how well-balanced it is between atmosphere and heaviness; one never overshadows the other, and this makes for an utterly despondent, crushing listening experience.
Ritual of Passing is the soundtrack to slow death, the crumbling of sanity, the collapse of civilization; the fact of the matter is that Atriarch’s abrasive, darkly psychedelic music is more than fit to accompany just about any tragedy or disaster one can think of, the more grisly and depressing, the better. Tune in, turn up and fucking die.