Ruins and Dead Ends

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With so many deathcore, melodic death metal and old school death metal bands releasing new records recently, it makes listening to a new, normal, straight-up extreme death metal record refreshing—which usually isn’t the case. Amidst the soulful and lush tunes of acts like Arch Enemy and Insomnium, the brutal breakdowns of Suicide Silence and All Shall Perish, and the traditional onslaughts of Vader and Decapitated, hearing some crushing and no-frills-yet-modern-sounding death metal from Swe—melo-death—den is truly surprising.Introducing: As You Drown. This death metal quintet may still be wet behind the ears, but they sure play fast and hard like Behemoth—minus the blasphemous lyrical theme, elaborate costumes and occasional illegal stage antics of course. As with many other bands, As You Drown don’t just look up to Behemoth. They worship the traditional death metal veterans as well (as you will see later on in this interview).It’s no wonder then that their music is a face-flaying aural concoction of mini-gun drumming, killer riffs and pissed off vokills. In my first feature for this site, I spoke with frontman Henrik Blomqvist to find out more about their latest giant-rodent-themed record, their tour experiences with legendary bands, and Ikea meatballs among other things.

 Hello Henrik! So, What have you been spinning in your stereo lately?

Hey there! I’ve been listening to the latest Hate Eternal album a lot, as well as the new Nader Sadek (Steve Tucker, Flo Mounier, Blasphemer…) which I think are both fuckin’ excellent death metal records. Really makes you just wanna lock yourself in a rehearsal room for about 10 years ’til you sound as good, hehe. In the car on the way to gigs and such, we’ve been blasting a lot of Dissection, Down, Vader and various stoner rock bands.

Does the name “As You Drown” make a reference to a famous murder of some sort from some country (e.g.: Like “The Black Dahlia Murder”) or was it just a name you guys thought would be cool to have?

The idea originally came from a song by one of my favourite bands, Gothenburg sludge lords Abandon. Their vocalist Johan, who was a good friend of mine, tragically passed away a couple of years ago, so I see it as a kind of homage to him. In the context of our music, I think the name conjures up the image of watching from a hill as the world drowns in its own filth and misery, as described in our song “Driven by Hatred”.

Coming from a country famous for melodic death metal and groovy old school death metal (à la Entombed), it is pretty rare to find a death metal band such as yourselves who doesn’t play in the aforementioned styles. I am curious to know, what shaped you guys into As You Drown when y’all were surrounded by so many bands that didn’t play in your preferred style now?

 I think there’s definitely some influence on our sound from those kind of bands as well, as you say it’s part of what we grew up with. However, I think all of us listened to a lot of American and Polish death metal during our formative years as well, which is probably what has been most instrumental in shaping our sound.

How did it feel to be able to support the legendary Polish death metal titans Vader on a tour last year? Who do you all hope to be able to tour with next?

 Fuckin’ amazing! I’ve been a huge fan of Vader since I was 15 years old and stumbled upon the “Litany” album for the first time, so it was kind of a childhood dream come true for me. We had some really great gigs on that tour, and both the Vader guys and their crew were truly awesome and down to earth people, so it was a truly fantastic experience all around.

Do correct me if I am wrong, but your music actually sounds like Behemoth with deathcore influences. Was this a direction you guys were aiming for right from the start or did it just happen naturally? 

Behemoth is definitely a big influence on us, as well as other Polish greats like Decapitated and the aforementioned Vader. I don’t think we’ve been all that influenced by deathcore, since the band was started back in 2003, before ‘deathcore’ was even a thing. However, we probably share a lot of influences with that kind of bands – stuff like Cannibal Corpse, Meshuggah, Suffocation and so on.

Which brings me to a few other details I noticed: 2009’s Reflection had an artwork reminiscent of Whitechapel’s own dark and gritty, almost-as-if-photographed album covers, while 2011’s Rat King features a cartoonish and morbid piece of artwork reminiscent of many designs found on deathcore shirts. Oh, throw in the spiky band logo as well. Were these elements consciously incorporated into the overall visual appeal of the band as, perhaps, displaying deathcore influences?

 I actually think the artwork for the new album looks a lot more old school than the last one. The cover was made by Mark Riddick who’s made gruesome and horrific art for tons of death metal bands, both in the underground and for more high-profile bands like The Black Dahlia Murder. I think it looks a bit older, more refined and a helluva lot more evil than our first album. Additional artwork was made by Sven de Caluwé of the mighty Aborted, and he did a great job of conveying the dark and intense feeling of the album in his images as well.

Many members of the metal press have reported that Rat King has a lyrical theme that deals with “the medieval German folk phenomena of rat kings, which were associated with plagues that devastated the European continent.” Is it just an interesting topic for you all to sing about or is there a greater socio-political message behind it?

It’s not really a concept album with a coherent story running through it, or anything resembling that. Rat kings were supposedly these huge groups of rats that had become knotted together by their tails, and were said to warn of oncoming disease, death and destruction. The title is meant as a metaphor for the overarching theme of the lyrics, which deal with the concept of impending doom in a number of different shapes and forms. There’s definitely a socio-political element to many of these lyrics, I think the feeling of things falling apart and turning to shit is stronger in both Europe and the US than it has been for a long time. For instance, the words for the song “Rabid Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” can be seen as the rage of the 99% [of the world], bellowing out their disgust against the unscrupulous elite that control almost all of our planet’s resources. “You Should Be Paranoid” is about the ways that the puppet masters are trying to control us through various forms of surveillance, caging us in what Michel Focault called the “trap of visibility”. There are also lyrics that deal with the ‘impending doom’-theme on a more personal level, through topics like drug abuse and the inevitability of death.

Have you all grown in any (musical or lyrical) way from Reflection to Rat King?

Most definitely. Musically, I think it sounds a lot darker and has more of that majestically epic feeling that bands like Morbid Angel, Behemoth, Nile, Hate Eternal and Immolation do so well. It’s also a bit more varied and dynamic both in rhythm and melody and the performances from every member are stronger and more nuanced as well. As for the lyrics, I’m about a hundred times more satisfied with them this time around than I was with the ones for ‘Reflection‘. I was kind of new in the band when I wrote the stuff for our debut and a lot of the lyrics are old ones that I just edited a bit. This time I got to write everything from scratch and theirs is more of a unifying theme that ties the lyrics of the album together. Also, they are just a lot darker, vicious and more brutally honest on this one.

What can we expect from the next record?

I think we are gonna go for an even darker, more twisted and evil sound on the next one, without losing any of our intensity and aggression. There may be a bit more of a black metal influence to it. The main thing we are discussing right now is making everything a lot more dynamic though, and trying to really find our own sound which is uniquely ours. In a way ‘Reflection‘ was kind of a test run, a collection of the best songs we had written thus far. ‘Rat King‘ feels like our first real album in a lot of ways, since it’s the first one that this line-up got to create from scratch, a statement of where we are today. Now that we have finished that one, it feels like the time has come to really seek out our own identity and forge a sound that is our very own.

Here’s the ubiquitous question! Who are your greatest sources of inspiration and influences?

Anyone that (in the words of Bill Hicks) plays from their fucking heart, really. I’d say the main influences on the music are American and Polish death metal bands though. Names like Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Hate Eternal, Decapitated, Behemoth, Vader and such come to mind. A lot of other types of metal seep in as well though – Meshuggah, Pantera, Gojira, At The Gates and Slayer are some examples. For me, vocal-wise, I’m inspired by anyone that sounds genuinely aggressive and has a unique voice. David Vincent, Brett Hoffman, George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fischer, Johan Carlzon, Scott Kelly, Piotr Wiwczarek, Frank Mullen and Tom Waits are some of my faves.

Any non-musical activities you guys spend a lot of time on as well?

Well, working shitty jobs mostly. You don’t exactly get rich from playing death metal. Other than that I guess it’s the usual: Reading, watching movies, playing video games, kissing goats, attending ritual sacrifices and so on.

Here’s a random question. Do you guys bring along Ikea meatballs together with its inseparable brown sauce on visits to countries which serve up food that doesn’t look very edible?

 Eh, nope. Sometimes we bring goat’s blood. Most countries we visit have pretty decent food though, and we’re not too picky. Thanks for the interview!


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