Portland’s harrowing, blackened, gloomy deathrock outfit Atriarch announced itself quite suddenly with 2011’s debut Forever the End. As good as that first album was, though, it finds itself happily eclipsed in all respects by the resplendent grimness of Ritual of Passing, which fractures further the band’s whatever-works stylistic rummaging and announces in no uncertain terms a great sneering prophet of doom in vocalist Lenny Smith.
Musically, Ritual of Passing is defined by the interplay between the throbbing, luminescent bass playing and guitars that flit between ditch-digging doom, deathrock spikiness, and black metal afterthoughts. The blast-beaten swarm that concludes album opener “Parasite” is probably the clearest nod to Bauhaus gone black metal, but that same black metal vibe reappears in “Altruist,” but looser, shakier: frantic.
As good as these songs are, though, what really brings Ritual of Passing home is how hard Smith sells the whole thing. His street corner ranting is the dyspeptic anchor that allows the instruments to wander this way and that without ever feeling lost. A song like “Altars” succeeds marvelously because it allows Smith to simply unload over a queasy, early Swans churn. (And a line like “Grovel! Pray! Pray! See what it brings you!” is straight from Michael Gira’s playbook anyway.)
If the purposeful gothiness of deathrock isn’t for you, or you’re allergic to occasionally gauche punk-isms in the lyrics, you’ll probably need some extra persuading. But still, where a lyric like “Control yourself; your thoughts are your own” might typically come across like some hokey Hatebreed self-affirmation, when it’s shouted tunelessly and arhythmically over a lurching goth/post-punk stampede, the delivery subverts the message in a way that communicates something primal and honest: “You who are my enemy, I embrace you as my brother.” I mean, holy shit, friends: That is a lyric.
If there’s a main complaint about the album, it’s that it’s pretty massively front-loaded. “Cursed” drifts a little, but pulls it back in with a crunchy, doom-filled closing act, while the understated “Outro” brings things to a quiet, albeit still unsettling close, rather than out on a triumphant note (or a supremely despondent one, as the case may have been). Ritual of Passing is still a jagged, potent offering. It holds a mirror to your life and laughs at its crumbling edifices. The world storms and howls and whines; the madcap laughs.