Rat King – Omen Review

Indiana’s Rat King have been skulking around the Midwest since 2016, tweaking their classic stoner doom style and releasing a few singles and EPs, with Omen being their debut full-length. Their promo package namedrops genre greats like Kyuss and Electric Wizard and speaks of an exploration of the darker elements of the human condition while promising haunting, evocative vocals. This is the PR milkshake that brought Steel to the yard, and to be blunt, I’m unsatisfied with the quality of the beverages being served and would like to speak to the Rat Manager.

It comes down to the conundrum at the very foundations of stoner doom itself. This genre more than any other compels you to deliver top-notch riffs, and if don’t, or can’t, then all you’re left with is hazy, smoky nothings. I’ll alleviate the tension hanging in the air and tell you that Rat King’s riffs aren’t particularly interesting or engaging. You’ve heard the kind of material they peddle a million times before done by many better acts. The leads are loud, distorted and sound like something you should be listening to while gazing vacuously into a lava lamp, but they won’t stimulate the grey matter without a committed weekend of banging the bong bravely beforehand. Opening track “Nepeta Divinorum” has the benefit of sounding heavy and ominous, with mammoth chugs leading somewhere (you assume). When the vocals join in they’re the stereotype of stoner singing – distant, monotonous, unpolished and not particularly good. I’ve heard worse but I’ve also heard a ton better. While the creepy keyboards provide a slightly malevolent edge to the 6-plus minute plod, very little here resonates or gets me on board with the bake sale.

Songs like “Supernova” and “Glacier” are urgent and aggressive with a more forceful delivery, but nothing they do rises above below average. “Capsizer” starts with a long monologue from WWF/WWE star Mankind of all people. It strives for a slower, darker vibe with vocals sounding better and more plaintive, but the song ends up a rather dull trudge through sludgy tedium despite the enhanced atmospherics. The best moments occur on the longest cut “Vagrant” where a decent chorus arrives to break up the general malaise, but this too gets stuck in the muck of the song’s nearly 9 minute meandering trip through generic/historic Stonerville. What Rat King lack in viable riffs, they make up for with interludes, of which they give us three. By my count, that’s two too many, especially as they don’t add much to the album, feeling like an effort to pad the material out to a respectable 44 minute length. Adding to the compositional and structural woes is a loud, muddy production that doesn’t always aid the material. While the guitars are appropriately massive sounding, the mix is a chunky slurry with vocals relegated to the background screaming to be heard.

As a stoner doom entity, it falls to Andrei Stirbu and Jason Wilcher to carry the day with tasty, brain shellacking riffs the size of a VW hippie van. This they do not accomplish. They churn out some heavy, brutish and sludgy leads a la Windhand, but many of them are of the simplistic, chuggy wuggy variety and lack the hooks to make them memorable. Nick Graman delivers a big, fat bass presence which gives the material extra heft, but the low impact guitar-work squanders that advantage more often than not. Kyle Wilcher handles drums and lead vocals and while his drumming is fine, he isn’t especially good on the vocal front – screaming, hollering and kinda sorta crooning in a raw, unpolished way that does little to elevate the lackluster songs.

Based solely on the unbelievably bad, retina burning cover at,1 I certainly didn’t come to this album expecting the next Kyuss, and it’s fair to say I had realistic expectations. Sadly, Omen didn’t live up to even these guarded projections. There’s a certain amount of talent present, but the songcraft isn’t where it needs to be to get Rat King anywhere. Maybe with more time burning in the crucible of their local scene they’ll hone some ragged edges and sharpen some skills. Until then, this Rat King can’t carry away the purloined pizza.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 253 kbps mp3
Label: Self Release
Websites: ratkingdoom.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ratkingdoom
Releases Worldwide: July 9th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. I’m told this is actually fine art by one AMG staffer who I no longer trust to opine on art generally.
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