I’m fed up with wizards, dragons, and leather-cladded warriors in metal. I’m fed up with corpse paint, studs, and leather-cladded necromancers in metal. I’m fed up with groove, headbanging, and flannel-cladded bong wizards in metal. I’m fed up with melody and happiness in metal, that’s why Atriarch – with their fourth full-length Dead As Truth – have arrived at the perfect time. Actually, I love all of the above, but sometimes the lack-of-gimmickry and convoluted showmanship is a powerful gimmick itself. Atriarch’s gimmick is grimness and depression. Just look at that colorful album artwork. Examine the joyous gaits of the members of the band below. Being from Portland, Oregon – as a metal band – would be depressing enough, but Atriarch extend the destitute rage tenfold. Encircling their sparse sludge sound is Swans-esque post-punk weirdness, Amebix and Killing Joke forcefulness and smidgens of industrial blackened rage. Dead as Truth is 32-minutes of echoing pain.
As with Swans and doom-based bands of their ilk, Atriarch revolve around repetitious pessimism. Atriarch present their throbbing echo-chamber of reverberating growls and trance-inducement from the get-go. Little deviates from this barren landscape except for the occasional burst of frenzied aggression. A huge help to this style is the production. Dead as Truth sounds pretty good for the style: Lenny Smith’s vocals tend to fluctuate with loose abandon throughout the album, floating with a grizzly vitriol amongst the deep thud of the drums, the terse plod of bass, and death-dance flow of the single lead guitar. Warmness and fullness shunned for an uncomfortable, harsh, and cavernous sound works well here. Opener “Inferno” instills slow-building dread right from the start. At seven-plus minutes, it moves carefully through various vistas with measured starkness, opening with creaking and scarping feedback and string-tampering before rupturing into heaviness as the song steadily descends the ladder to the underworld.
Follow up “Dead” throbs with ritualistic evilness, the bass a full and luscious force that enhances the thumping rhythms and half-shouted vocal incantations. Spurts of fast, almost blast-beat ridden drums and more vulnerable snarled vocals are ushered into existence as the song unravels, alongside post-rock guitar textures and conventionally sludgey post-punk flavors. Lenny Smith’s uneven vocals work wonders to tie these elements together. His voice is a raw and vulnerable force, staggering and clawing desperately at the instruments with fiery hatred. Gruff semi-spoken word vocals and drawling drunk-man shouts carry through the steadier sections of the album, though these rapidly descend into throat-shredding snarls and screams, usually during the heavy bursts of sound. Lyrically, the album consists of effectively simple minimalism, with Smith bellowing ‘suicide,’ ‘depression,’ and other nouns of their ilk in a disjointed manner throughout.
Atriarch mostly stick to a similar formula, building from trance-inducing sparsity to greater use of extreme metal – tempo shifts, drum bursts, and harsher vocals – as their song breaks down. “Void” merge the best elements of Atriarch with Smith’s spoken word bellows transforming into off-kilter screams that move organically with the heavy-bass presence and general sense of musical deterioration. Closer “Hopeless,” when held against the greyness of the rest of the album, is a rainbow. Subtle melodies in the form of softly textured chord progressions form a satisfying contrast to the jackhammer bursts of noise in penultimate track “Repent.” I wish that this lighter melodic dynamic was explored more often.
Dead As Truth tends to drag as the back-end of closer “Hopeless” seeps in; it’s certainly a good thing that the album only runs for 32-minutes rather than 64. A vast range of variety isn’t the game here, but descending into heavier territories for longer periods, or conversely into more tender moments, would give the album a much stronger presence while maintaining its ugly sparsity. “Hopeless” offers very little that expands upon the previous five tracks, merely extending the elements found in the previous five tracks with less potency and aggression. Upon reflection, the passive, sullen, and uninspiring end to the album is perfect for the feelings of resignation and depression that Atriarch have smeared across Dead as Truth. The album is very similar to 2014’s An Unending Pathway and the more I weigh-up my views the more I feel like the band have stagnated somewhat. Despite this, Atriarch have a unique and uncompromising style that works well and Dead As Truth is unique and uncompromising, just not within their discography.