Atriarch, Forever the End: Meet at the Beginning

Oppressive in its atmosphere and crafted with an unrelenting darkness of aesthetic, Forever the End, the Seventh Rule Recordings debut from Portland, Oregon’s Atriarch is an intelligent masterwork that harkens to a very particular sense of drama. In listening to the record, it’s hard to believe the album is only 36 minutes long, because when you’re in it, the sound is so open, so sparse, and the spaces the guitar, bass, drums and vocals occupy so overwhelming, that it seems hard for a band to affect such a mood in so short a time. It’s a grieving, sorrowful atmosphere, playing modern doom tonality off depressive ‘90s-style guitar weeping that’s more Gothic than “gothic,” but owes something to drunken teenage late nights spent hanging out in cemeteries nonetheless. The four mostly-extended tracks of Forever the End keep to linear structures, and the result is they flow together almost as one larger piece. That they’re wrapped around a central and pervasive sonic misanthropy only enhances this feel, and through all of “Plague,” “Shadows,” “Fracture” and “Downfall,” Atriarch balance doomed heaviness with black metal’s cultish sensibility, vocalist Lenny resting far back in the mix for vicious cavern screams or cutting through with a sort of monotonic clean singing.

“Plague,” the tone-setting opener from which no light can escape, does bleed right into “Shadows,” with Brooks’ guitar emitting patient, cyclical patterns that set the stage for Maxamillion’s drums, which have the solemn duty of holding together material that’s both intricate and slow. The production on the whole of Forever the End is raw – the guitar sounds raw, Nick’s bass, though about the only show of warmth Atriarch have on offer, is raw, the vocals are raw – but the drums sound crisp and clear nonetheless. Maxamillion’s snare seems far back as “Shadows” moves into its lumbering heavier section after three minutes in, but the bass drum and toms come across well, and as the song once again shifts to a quieter movement to set up a solo section from Brooks, the hi-hat is bright, but not at all lacking in presence. That helps as the cacophony builds to the track’s apex – some rare double-kick and killer fills there amid Nick’s bass leading the groove – but it’s still the guitar that leaves the most lasting impression as it and some sampled throat singing close out. Atriarch don’t feel too concerned with “the ending” as an essential piece of the structure of their songs (this too helps the “take it as a whole” vibe of Forever the End), but “Shadows” satisfies on that level nonetheless, and as “Fracture” seems to start with a minimalist sparing of guitar and bass, most striking of all about it is the gradualness, the patience with which Atriarch execute the slow march to dominating heaviness.

One thing about the 36-minute runtime and the fact that there are only four tracks is that it sets Forever the End up perfectly for a vinyl release, which indeed seems to be the focus of both Atriarch and Seventh Rule. The CD comes stamped in a (likely recycled) cardboard digipak – adding a handmade feel to an already organic-sounding collection – and the LP, with different artwork, strikes as the higher priority. Whatever format it’s received in, however, “Fracture” is undoubtedly the album’s high point. At 14 minutes, the Side B opener echoes the subdued ambience of “Shadows,” but pushes further into a creepy minimalism that the whole band, but especially Maxamillion, handles very well. It’s hard to make drums sound sparse, play slow, but still have some sense of rhythm, and though he’s got a partner in the rhythm section with no shortage of experience in crafting high-grade ultra-slow doom (Nick is the former guitarist of Graves at Sea), his tom work underneath Brooks’ guitar and the semi-droning clean vocal from Lenny is both driving and atmospheric, a light touch showing rarely-heard dynamics in metal percussion. “Fracture” boasts Forever the End’s most cohesive build, but still has some ebb and flow to it so that as it pays off – Lenny utilizing a lower-register growl yet-unheard on the album – its coming is well announced. The piano notes it closes on (no credit given) are somewhat cliché, but serve a purpose in heightening the melodic/dramatic feel on which closer “Downfall” capitalizes.

Compared to some of the album’s earlier moments, “Downfall” moves at a fairly good clip, and with an undercurrent of low-mixed synth, Brooks sounds all the more melodic on guitar. Atriarch have already impressed on Forever the End with their ability to search out the beautifully melancholic from what’s superficially abrasive, and the finale, which seems to set the balance more on the former than any other track included. Of course, as the song develops, Lenny still reels back for harsh screaming and Brooks and Nick still offer thickened plod for Maxamillion to crash behind and fill the spaces between, and toward the end, they go more full-on black metal than anywhere else on the record (sorry for the spoiler), but there’s still a sense more of regret than outright anger, and that can make a huge difference when it manifests properly in music, as it does here. The album can seem to have a somewhat fractured consciousness, but that strikes more as intent than happenstance, and Atriarch triumph through the vividness of their atmospheres and the effect they have on the listener. Forever the End is a considerable achievement that ultimately proves far more efficient than it seems initially. It’s an easy release to be excited about for its effective blend of modern doom and black metal – like Cough’s first record with more emotional flair – but Atriarch back up the surface hype with an obvious strive for individuality that one imagines will only help distinguish them going forward. Heavy tone, heavy heart.

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