The overuse of the facetious idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” loses most of its power when discussing Rat King‘s 2020 sophomore release, Vicious Inhumanity. A flash at the name, title, and colourful slime of the artwork and a first or second guess will probably get the correct answer. Swamp-born death metal with harsh accents and discordant ideas? Good for you, you got it. There’s another idiom made famous, in the UK at least, by its relevance to the product’s durability and esteem, and its use here is intended only as a compliment – “does exactly what it says on the tin”.
Following 2016’s Garbage Island, Vicious Inhumanity ups the overall creativity and elects to run the gamut of extreme metal sounds through Rat King’s proclivity for overdriven sludge. Turgid death metal bumps tentacled heads with the harsh face of man (grind) and at times even crashes glaciers with the vast, bleak winterscapes of Scandinavia (post-metal). All wrapped up in a suitably subsonic, murky production that might take a few tracks to settle. The trio’s extensive use of the bass as the real moist-maker could have left the Geezer Butler-esque bass noodles and shreds but in true fashion the name and art, the subterranean gods of extreme metal allow it to cut through the crunch and clang of the guitar and drums. And the cymbals. Some of the trash, china, and “CLANG” sounds sound overdubbed to the point of an in-joke, but after a while the ear-splitting hits start to jam.
“Matanza” and “Chaleco De Billetes” set the pace early, crashing forward in a typically deathgrind fashion. There’s even a dip into more traditional grindcore, with a Greenway style call and response moment in the latter; a section that the band smash into with the utmost ease. It’s pretty remarkable how often the trio smashes the brakes and pull tracks into a new direction – “In Quiet Sleep” blasts through an album of early Mastodon riff changes before finally bringing out the pentagrams and cloaks for a rousing finalé. This comes up in each of the tracks longer than three and a half minutes, the minutes are filled with changes and segues into new moments, sometimes threatening to get lost in the shift, but somehow never ending up as an Amber Alert notification. This is when the bass becomes so vital, noodling and plucking out the killer filler.
Swampy tones and swish stylistic shifts aside, Rat King’s experiment sometimes does sound exactly like that. After the initial flurry of momentum and harsh grinding fuckery, there’s the aforementioned toe-dipping into post-metal (“Soledad” – not awful, not great) and the easily avoidable sequencing error of not having the record’s best track, “Stranded”, as the closer. “Rotting From Inside” is fine too, but fuck, it should have “Stranded”. All the time building up to the surprisingly rousing final passage is sort of wasted when another murky death metal riff kicks in right after.
Does exactly what it says on the tin. And more. Though the production might put a few off, there’s plenty to be excited about on Vicious Inhumanity. If slimemonstercore needed a new face – it’s got one. Rat King’s mix of crunchy riffs and low-register freakouts is a delightful welcome to the year but the band are maybe a little guilty of stirring the pot too much. Too many cooks in the kitchen. Whatever. Idioms are dumb. They don’t translate. Nasty, genre-bending extreme metal does. This is that.
Vicious Inhumanity is available Jan. 17 via Within The Mind Records.