Curly red haired person stands in front of a rock structure.

Review: Castle Rat – Into the Realm


Castle Rat
“Into The Realm”
Wise Blood Records
Street: 04.12
Castle Rat = Witchfinder General + Warlock x Gallhammer^2 (Heavy Metal illustrations)  

I’ve heard of the ancient evil that voyaged from the East coast. Their band of barbaric warriors was small, merely 4 or so, but there was something more to them. Each succubus kackle or boiling cauldron of strings and basses opened spiritual warfare on all the brave souls too naive to back down. Dark forces, brutal battle tactics, the patina of grimey dread and fierce snarls—all were possible for this quartet’s viscous sludge of rocking calamity. Their sound is heavy, their attitude is bloodthirsty and their appearance is rawly fresh to the music market. I bestow upon thy weary travelers, the medieval thunder and reckoning sensory of Castle Rat’s debut album Into The Realm.

Our chainmail mother Riley Pinkerton, known as “The Rat Queen,” welds a sturdy artillery: a matte black excalibur, a lighting white rhythmic Gibson and the most diabolical pair of pipes to cut down any opposing threat. Her reign is accompanied by Henry Black (“The Count”) on lead guitar, Ronnie Lanzilotta (“The Plague Doctor”) with his escapist bass and Joshua Strmic (“The Druid”) on cave-dwelling percussions. Together, their overarching battle with death himself is prevalent through psychedelic chords and doom fantasy overtones. Just like mucky tar pits that dragged prehistoric mammoths to their untimely demise, Into The Realm grips listeners and pulls them to a sinking darkness…

After accidentally stumbling across this album on YouTube, I knew it would be a time machine to both the early ‘70s and the Black Plague. Its most honorable track has to be “Fresh Fur”— an encapsulation of fully-flexed skill sets and a testament to what heavy metal once was. This track is an absolute mood-changer; perfect to throw on during a midnight Dungeons & Dragons session or preparing to conjure a portal to the Nether Realm. You can hear the chugging-along beat that speeds up to heightened rawness, yet slows down to push Pinkerton’s supersonic growls to the forefront. It’s this broken-down engine approach that seems to highlight a journey into another world—with all its dead-end tumbles and spirit-lifting achievements.  

More moody tracks like “Dagger Dragger” or “Cry For Me” still hold true to the Black Sabbath-esque dark rock, but it’s more jaded and faded than the rest of the trackology. The acoustics are stretched to its limit, making every strum chug painfully harder. Vocals are reverbed to echo chamber levels, as if you’ve plugged in your turntable at the bottom of a grizzly, centuries-old mausoleum. Although all the tracks craft storytelling lyricism, “Dagger Dragger” is dialedup dread with sexually appealing picture painting. “Shadows twisted into shapes of demons / Thrust your blade into the dark mass, screaming / Dagger Dragger, the breast you’ve struck is bleeding.” 

When it comes to any criticism, it’s less on method and songwriting, but could be focused on audience reaction. Old school stylings brought back to the modern age, whether revisiting or reimagined, could make people take a step back. “This just sounds like Sabbath!” I can hear the complaints now… However, Castle Rat adds the sort of pizazz that separates them from rehashing vintage sounds. Their robust melodies and overall, gosh darn theatrical facade of make-believe makeup and costumes makes them an exciting watch. It’s not every full moon that a band balances between legendary fantasy and real life, but it’s a reputation that carries respect for both the artform and the homage. For me, Castle Rat isn’t crossing swords with heavy metal’s history, but honoring that darkly-intriguing music genre that the bandmates grew up on. —Alton Barnhart

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