It has been a long seven years since the release of Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, the debut album by the Ukrainian band Rattenfänger (discussed here). Although Rattenfänger was a new name then, its members were not newcomers, having already made their mark through Drudkh, Blood of Kingu, and Old Silver Key. Rattenfänger had become their alternate vehicle for indulging an affinity for certain flavors of old school death metal.
But the band’s name is much older than the era that produced the early works of Bolt Thrower, Asphyx, and Celtic Frost, whose influences (among others) played a significant role in the music. The name Rattenfänger was taken from the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin (Rattenfänger von Hameln), who was hired by the folk of that town to rid themselves of the rats that had overrun it. As we know, he was deceived and cheated of his payment, and exacted a dreadful revenge by luring away Hamelin’s children, never to be seen again.
Rattenfänger connected themselves to the Dark Ages in other ways, by writing their lyrics in Latin, in the style of medieval poets, thinkers, and troubadours/minstrels. And now, seven years on, they’re about to release a new album, which we present to you today in its entirety.
This second album is set for release on December 6th by Dark Essence Records. Its title is Geisslerlieder, and the lyrics are again in Latin. As for the album’s title, we’ll insert this excerpt from an article at The Font of All Human Knowledge:
“In medieval music, the Geisslerlieder, or Flagellant songs, were the songs of the wandering bands of flagellants, who overspread Europe during two periods of mass hysteria: the first during the middle of the 13th century, and the second during the Black Death in 1349. The music was simple, sung in the vernacular, often call-and-response, and closely related to folk song; indeed some of the flagellant songs survived into the 17th century as folk songs in Catholic parts of central Europe. Musically the Geisslerlied were related to the Laude spirituale: they were unaccompanied song, with instrumental accompaniment specifically forbidden”.
Of course, in their own flagellant songs Rattenfänger ignore that prohibition on instrumental accompaniment, though they recall those dark hysterical times in other ways, beginning with the new album’s overture, “De Laude Flagellorum”, which combines the sounds of bells tolling, dogs barking, people yelling, choral voices reverently singing, and perhaps a wooden cart laden with corpses rolling over broken ground.
Other recordings in a similar vein appear at other points within the album, at the beginning or end of songs, but the death metal itself is also as pitch-black, as brutal, as plague-stricken, and as demented as the dire times that inspired the album.
The tone of the music is massively heavy, dense and primitive, and heavy-grooved enough to leave craters in concrete pavements, and the the roaring vocals are themselves brutal, belly-deep, and cold-hearted.
“Materia Prima”, which comes after that overture, delivers bursts of thunderous booming intermixed with blasting drums, vicious roiling riffage, and that leads into grim, thuggish chords, skittering strings and skull-cracking snare beats. Waves of eerie tones and dismal whirring noise crest above the crushing rhythmic excavations in the low-end, whose compulsive pile-driving grooves will shake you like a rag doll in the hands of giants. And as if that weren’t enough to wreck your neck, the band launch into a closing sequence of monstrous jackhammering that will finish the job.
The mountainous low-end power demonstrated on “Materia Prima” is a fixture throughout the album, and the massive bone-shaking grooves that launch “Pestarzt” will continue to give your neck a vigorous workout. But the song shifts into a more animated snare rhythm accompanied by catastrophically mauling and heaving riffery and bursts of crazed fretwork. The snare beats go off like gunshots over the deep, grisly, grinding guitars, while that ice-cold voice continues to bellow and bray. And after a strange little interlude, the band shift into a monstrous stomp accented by flares of lead-guitar delirium.
“Les Bons Hommes” is likewise a heavyweight mauler. After an opening onslaught of deep, bone-grinding riffage and neck-cracking snare beats, the abyssal roaring voice and blasting kit-work arrive, along with filaments of weird moaning tonality. The shrill, buzzing lead guitar creates a feeling of delighted dementia in the midst of all the catastrophic destruction.
After the savage momentums of the first three songs, the band dramatically change gears in “Sella Stercoraria”, opening with an oppressive, slow-motion doom/death stagger and then follow that with a bout of mid-paced caveman chugging. Those heavy chugs resurface throughout the song, and the band introduce other motifs to pump up the energy, including a maniacal closing frenzy of hammering drums and diseased tremolo’d chords.
The pacing of “De Blasphemia In Latina Vulgaris” is stately at first, and the combination of granite-heavy, frigid chords and vaporous ghostly melody give the music the atmosphere of a funeral dirge. The band gradually push down on the gas pedal to warm up your blood, to loosen your muscles, and to jackhammer the pavement, but return again to that walking corpse of an opening sequence. Eventually, much as they did in the preceding track, Rattenfänger viciously jam the pedal to the floor and unleash a berserker assault of bullet-spitting drums, fast-thrumming bass, wretched vocal excess, and macabre guitar harmony performed at a high boil.
The album closer, “Funis Coronat Opus”, sees a return to titanic booming chords that heave and stomp, infiltrated by gruesome leads and skull-splitting snare beats, and interspersed with eruptions of destructive mayhem that channel a feeling of glorious cruelty. Yet in the song’s second half, as the drummer puts on a riveting display of percussive acrobatics, the melody majestically soars — though the simple repeating lead you’ll hear is pure misery.
All in all, the album is a bone-smasher that also manages to be atmospheric — and you should be warned that it’s highly addictive too.
To repeat, Geisslerlieder will be released on December 6th by Dark Essence Records., and it’s available for pre-order now.