Vicious and remorseless in its brutality, As You Drown’s Rat King is a repetitive but demanding bombardment of extreme metal.
As You Drown emerged from Borås, Sweden in 2003 with cold death on their minds. Within two years, they were playing in support sets for the likes of Vader and Entombed. In 2009, after the addition of bassist Robert Karlsson and vocalist Henrik Blomqvist to the crew that already included Mikael Åkerström, Simon Exner and drummer Martin Latvala, the band released its debut recording entitled Reflection.
The band’s sophomore record is more of the same persistent punishment. Mixed and mastered by Plec at the suitably named Panic Room Studio in Skövde, Rat King is a concept album dealing with the German folk legends of “rat kings.” These were, of course, horrific rats that many believed carried deadly plagues to the masses on the European continent.
Blomqvist is a pitiless vocalist and his grating, unruly rumbles can be hard to get through. He brings it to an unfathomable level with such consistency that he could be virtually saying anything over the gruelling tempest of guitars and sound. There are moments where things slow down enough to pick out certain words (“Cleansing Hands”), but for the most part Blomqvist is a heartless warren of indecipherable madness. I mean that in the best possible way.
As You Drown doesn’t seem to care much for showing off, at least on this record, and everything is set to annihilate rather than amaze. There are no embellishments of melody to celebrate, no gaudy grooves to latch on to. Everything on Rat King is about obliteration, plain and simple, and picking through the bones of what’s left is perhaps the only consolation.
Tracks like “Conqueror” and “Your Loyal Betrayer” clutch like the chops of some unearthly animal and don’t let up, conveying their blood-spattered sense of violence every cheery step of the way. And “Slaves to the Kingdom of Fear” is a deluge of blackness and savagery.
Look, Rat King is either going to do the trick or not. This type of ruthless, harsh, harmful metal rarely earns new converts unless the new converts are looking to blow off steam like an ex-Mormon in Vegas. As You Drown is good at what they do, no question about it, and their untiring pledge to cruel metal is worth a spin or two for fans of getting their heads caved in.