An Unending Pathway, the third full-length from Portland, Oregon’s Atriarch, is in strong contention for dreariest album of the year—a dismal, slow-burn exploration of the cyclical elements of life and death and associated themes of decay, loss, the persistence of time, and eventual rebirth. There is an aura of emptiness embedded deep within each of the seven tracks of the album, a melancholic void that is occasionally torn asunder in acts of sonic catharsis.
The compositions of An Unending Pathway often crawl along with a restrained intensity that occasionally boils over into blackened blasts of fury. “Revenant” and “Bereavement,” two of the most memorable tunes of the album, are examples of Atriarch at their most dynamic. “Revenant” is a dirge-like hymn celebrating the transcendence of flesh, and devolves from an atmospheric gothic crawl into a torturous death throe. Vocalist Lenny Smith–convincingly, and with relative ease–shifts between blackened howls of despair to clean vocals and death growls within the span of a single tune. “Bereavement” is the most aggressive track of the album and begins with a blackened onslaught before settling into a doomed, lurching crawl.
At just over seven minutes in length, “Rot” is probably the track most representative of the album as a whole in terms of overall theme, mood, and instrumentation. It is initially an empty, sparse composition with rhythmic drumming that acts as a backbone allowing the tune to unfold and breathe. The often desolate song is accompanied by Smith’s whispered musings on the unavoidable decomposition of the living punctuated by louder, more dynamic vocals and heavy yet sluggish riffs.
An Unending Pathway is by no means easy listening, but under the right conditions and in the right context it can be a compelling experience. Atriarch, since their inception, have seemed to draw from a variety of influences. An Unending Pathway, like its predecessors, effectively weaves elements from the darker side of the spectrum of rock and metal. The gothic and post-punk atmospheres of Bauhaus and The Birthday Party are effectively woven into the fibers of black and doom metal for a unique and dismally excellent listening experience. Fans of Neurosis, Minsk, Tombs, or Cardinal Wyrm—along with early eighties post-punk and gothic rock—should find quite a lot to admire in Atriarch’s entire discography.