Rat kings and goat rulers

By Adam Smyth

Photo Credit: Victor Liesto

As You Drown are a five-headed, ten-legged extreme death metal outfit from Sweden. As well as being able to brag about touring with the likes of Entombed and Vader, they’re signed to the mighy Metal Blade Records and have recently released their second album Rat King. With the band drawing influence from noisemakers Anaal Nathrakh, Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth, they have a stripped down bludgeoning sound as you might expect.

What keeps As you Drown from (ahem) going under is their ability to craft good songs and hooks but keep them subtle enough so that they are almost disguised in their own brand of death metal. Their new album’s subject matter concerns medieval Rat Kings, who existed during the great plagues of Europe. Adam Smyth interviewed vocalist, Henrik Blomqvist to find out if As You Drown are every bit as contagious as the plagues they have written about.

Adam Smyth: You’ve just released your second full length album. What has the feedback been like so far for Rat King?

Henrik Blomqvist: Response from the fans has been great! Everyone seems to love the album and most people seem to think it’s a definite step up for us, songwriting-wise. We think so too, so it’s nice that people agree. Most reviews have been favourable as well, although we tend to not pay too much attention to those. The main thing that we need to worry about is that the music feels honest and real to us, and as long as it does other people’s opinions are a secondary concern.

AS: Listening to the album, you’ve obviously lost none of the piss and vinegar that made Reflection (the 2010 debut) turn a lot of heads in the death metal scene. With this album though there’s definitely more variation between the songs. You could say death metal, like thrash, has a formula to it but as long as you put a different spin on it it becomes fresh and interesting. What were your goals when you set out to create Rat King and what did you learn from the touring and promoting Reflection?

HB: Yeah, we definitely tried to make everything a bit more dynamic and varied this time around. Like you say it’s still really intense and aggressive death metal but it’s a bit more textured, there’s a bit more variation in everything from rythms to vocals and there’s a bit more melody to certain parts. Starting out, my main vision for the album was that I wanted to do something that sounded genuinely pissed-off and vicious. We also had an ambition for it to have a lot more the majestic dark feeling that bands like Morbid Angel, Behemoth and Hate Eternal have in their music and I think that turned out pretty well. We definitely learned a lot from recording the first album, and even more from touring with bands like Vader (amazing dudes!), who really made us step up our game.

AS: One consistency Rat King has with Reflection is that there is an instrumental track halfway through the album. Did you feel a need to create a bit of a gap between the first half of the album and the second to stop the heaviness and sheer speed of the songs losing their impact? Or what was the motivation behind it?

HB: Yeah, we were toying around with the idea of having some kind of interlude on this record too, to “freshen up the ears” for another round of brutality. Then Mikael came up with this little acoustic bit that sounded really cool, so we decided to use it. I think it’s a nice little break in the blasting, and it makes the next track, The Nothing, sound twice as hard when it comes crashing in.

Photo Credit: Victor Liesto

AS: So the album is about the medieval German folk phenomena of rat kings, associated with the plagues that devastated Europe. Can you shed a little bit more light on what this folk phenomena was exactly? Is history an interest to the band besides music or did you just think this would be a fitting topic to cover with the album?

HB: The album is not really a concept album with a coherent story or anything like that. Rat kings were supposedly large groups of rats knotted together by their tails that were supposed to warn off oncoming disease, death and destruction. The title serves as a metaphor for the overarching theme of the album’s lyrics, which deal with impending doom and everything going to hell in a number of different ways. Some songs are about death on a more abstract level, some are about the world around us slowly turning to shit and some are about experiences of a more personal nature. Everything is however tied together by the image of things falling apart and dying.

AS: With this album you changed course in terms of the production side of things with it being mixed and mastered by Plec (Watain, Scar symmetry) at Panic Room Studios. Why did you feel the need to jump ship?

HB: Christian Silver did an awesome job on our last record, but we just felt we wanted to shake things up a bit. Plec was an obvious choice, since he’s done awesome work for bands like Watain and lives pretty close to us. He is also a really great guy and he loved the album, so everything went really smoothly.

AS: An interesting change with Rat King was the different artwork accompanying the music. What artist did you decide to work with and why? How important do you think artwork is for a death metal album in this day and age where lots of music consumers simply download the album and never get the physical album in their hands?

HB: I’m not sure how kids today feel, but to me having artwork that fits the feel and the themes of the music is definitely still important. The cover art was painted by the awesome Mark Riddick, who’s done tons of horrifically fucked up stuff for both underground acts and more well-known bands. We wanted something a bit more “old school” looking this time around and I’m psyched about the way it turned out, looks goddamn evil! The additional artwork and design for the booklet was done by the very talented Sven de Caluuwe of Aborted fame, and he really nailed it as well.

AS: Your band has ex-members from past bands such as Shadowbuilder, Eternal Chaos and Stabotage. Looking back, do you feel that coming from these different bands has helped shape the sound of As you Drown? How have you grown as a band?

HB: I can only speak for me personally, but for me the experience has definitely molded who I am today. I started my first death metal band Shadowbuilder with some friends when we were 15-16 years old, and we set off to melt the face off of the world pretty much. Playing every show we could find and recording demos and such, always trying to grow both as musicians and songwriters. It was kind of like attending death metal high school, only with lots of more beer than in most schools of course.

AS: You’ve described your band as a ‘goatmachine’. Why do you lads (ahem) goat so crazy for goats?

HB: Simple: There is no animal that is half as metal as a goat. Goats are the rulers of the animal kingdom. Also, they have cool horns.

AS: What’s on the agenda for As you Drown in the next few months then?

HB: We are looking into several different touring options at the moment. Nothing booked yet, but we are really looking forward to getting out on the road and inflicting some serious damage. Rest assured, announcements will be made soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

AS: Thank you very much for your time and best of luck for the future!

HB: Thanks yourself! May the goat be with you…

Rat King by As You Drown is out now through Metal Blade Records

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