Forever the End is a superbly-realized first effort from Portland, Oregon’s Atriarch. Summoning a thick, melancholy doom metal that drinks deeply from the wells of black metal and ‘proper’ gothic rock (think Bauhaus, not corsets), this richly atmospheric album is awash in pitch-perfect gloom without ever riding off the edge into pure mopery. Although the album feels simple and straightforward in its construction, particularly given the lack of any non-traditional instrumentation, there is a mysterious alchemy at work that aids Forever the End in easily exceeding the sum of its parts.
Atriarch’s chief merits, as with so many other acts of similar excellence, are tone and patience. The guitar tone throughout Forever the End is like velvet pulled slowly across a razor-sharp blade, both harmonically rich and steeped in the crushing heft of doom; the woozy strains that open “Shadows” sound like they may have just stumbled straight out of Esoteric’s Metamorphogenesis. The bass is a dark, throbbing swell, but the unknowable element – the je ne sais fuck cliché – most likely blooms out of the drumming. On opener “Plague,” for example, the tumbling cascade of drums is every bit as important as the gorgeous bass tone and wheezing guitar melodies, all of which completely dwarf the vocals, while the song follows a slow, patient logic that is reminiscent of Horseback’s The Invisible Mountain. One might think that the buried vocals are a problem, but it gives their delivery a haunting and distant feel, like wandering through a derelict building and swearing you can hear someone whispering, just around the corner, just out of sight. (For my fellow Harry Potter nerds, think through the arch and behind the veil.)
Apart from creating a brilliant tonal mass, Atriarch excels compositionally. The album’s centerpiece is the fourteen-minute “Fracture,” which rattles its chains softly for five minutes or so before exploding into a patiently-sustained cathartic outburst not entirely unlike very early Neurosis (i.e., try splitting the difference between The Word as Law and Souls at Zero). Just before the ten-minute mark, the song pulls back into a queasy mix of intentionally off-key vocals and Tombs-ish slippery tremolo. In fact, the subtlety with which the gothic touches are introduced throughout the album is very much of a piece with Mike Hill’s world-weary baritone excursions on Path of Totality. Album closer “Downfall,” meanwhile, feints like it’s going to go all ‘wimpy outro’ on us before it reveals a lurching two-step doom riff, atop which crash waves of pained, distant black howling. It breaks into a furious and unexpected climax with a massive torrent of blastbeats that assault the listener more viscerally than three hundred Dark Funeral albums because they appear nowhere else on the album, and so quickly burn themselves out into a slowly vaporizing doom pounding.
Everything about Forever the End is just about perfectly-proportioned – each song takes just about the right amount of time fiddling around and then building to its climax, and the album as a whole works surprisingly well despite its uncharacteristic brevity for a doom album of this malevolent stripe. This demonstrates an extremely thoughtful approach to songwriting and album-craft that often gets overlooked when a band obsesses about producing a unique sound. Couple this observation with the fact that this is the band’s debut release of any kind, and the future looks wonderfully (un)bright for Atriarch.