If you get nothing else from listening to Rat King from Swedish death metal band As You Drown you will feel refreshed and lighter from its sonic enema of the senses. With the power of a blast furnace it strips away layers and layers with nine tracks of blistering ferocity to leave behind raw nerves and deeply satisfying numbness. This is not for anyone searching for wistful melodies or delightfully caressing melodies, As You Drown only deal with intensity of the most ferocious kind.
Formed in the fading weeks of 2003 and inspired by the atmosphere and simple structure of original death metal as much as the speed and relentless brutality of the modern evolution of the genre, the band released three demos (named Ethereal) before 2005 and then their debut album Reflection in 2009 after the settlement of the bands current line-up. As with their debut, Rat King finds a release via Metal Blade Records on October 11th and is sure to leave many more wasted but grinning bodies in its wake.
The album was recorded in April of this year in the band’s own AYD Studio in Borås Sweden and then mixed and mastered by Plec (Watain, Scar Symmetry, Miseration) at Panic Room Studio in Skövde Sweden in July, the result a cascade and of titanic and monstrous riffs and punishing energy that the word ‘intense’ seems barely adequate for. The album is apparently themed around the medieval German folk phenomena of rat kings and their association with plagues that ravaged European. This is something we without seeing the lyrics will trust them on as with a delivery as crushing and barbaric as the sound there is never a moment where the vocals of Henrik Blomqvist are clear or remotely understandable. Do not take this as a negative though as it all adds to the impressive and unrelenting effect.
Musically the band is the epitome of raw power, bassist Robert Karlsson and drummer Martin Latvala bringing rhythms and aggression that breaks down any wall before them. From the opening track ‘Conqueror’ they pummel at the senses whilst the guitars of Mikael Åkerström and Simon Exner scythe away chunks of their own. Though not the strongest track on Rat King it is still a great and imposing opening to the album.
As the next track ‘Slaves To The Kingdom Of Fear’ takes over the bar is raised to never dip again throughout the whole release. Steam rolling drums, the incessant guitar battering and consuming guttural growls all grip hard and deeply. The opening two tracks are just the start of an intrusive and dehabilitating assault of sound that never lessens, not that one wants it to.
Each and every track is a beast but the incisive ‘You Should Be Paranoid’, the monstrous ‘Rabid Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing’ that leaves one feeling like they have been decapitated by the lack of feeling in the skull after it leaves its mark, and ‘The Nothing’ which could not drill deeper if it was powered by a jack hammer, all are devastating attacks on the ear. Equally ferocious and intently vicious they stoke up the most primal feelings that eagerly welcome the assault.
By the time the album ends on the haunting and colossal savagery of the stunning ‘Cleansing Hands’ there is nothing left to give the album apart from a deep breath and to dive back into its evil depths. In truth there is nothing amazingly new about what As You Drown bring within Rat King but rarely is it done with such wonderfully devastating effect. The band has something extra that is hard to define but as it is so satisfying and unrelenting who cares, just enjoy the punishment.