Unholy Rat King / Plague Bearer (Review + Interview)

We talk to the unrivaled king of the underworld, Unholy Rat King, about his new album Plague Bearer and all of the musical toys he used to create it!...

July 23, 2019

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If you want to know what the true underbelly of synthwave sounds like, I have your answer. Unholy Rat King rules an underworld where he collects sounds that echo down through the tunnels from the world above. He then takes these sounds, these bits and scraps of audio, and creates deconstructed masterpieces out of them. Plague Bearer, the latest full length from Unholy Rat King, stands as an unbridled testament to his talent...and also to the stranglehold he has on the throne.

You've got synthwave, there's darksynth, cyberpunk, chiptune, vaporwave, outrun, and countless other forms of synth based music making the rounds these days. What you're not going to find on your normal, paint-by-numbers playlist is an artist dedicated to bitcrushing you into oblivion. Unholy Rat King is a mad scientist, creating something out of what one might consider noise, melding disparate sounds into a cohesive blend of musical tracks. Plague Bearer is more than just the sum of its parts. It feels like a legitimate window into a world that exists just parallel to ours. Out of sight, out of mind, and out of public consciousness, but there none the less. It sounds dangerous. It FEELS dangerous. It represents a challenge to the status quo...a real threat to the fabric that holds our surface world together. It's honestly something you have to hear to understand.

That leads me to Bandcamp! Head over there right now and snag this brand new release at a very low price (not to mention an exclusive track!). Come back though, I've got a full interview with the Unholy Rat King about the album, how he writes, and what we can expect out of him this year!

Welcome! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. What has the bringer of plagues been up to lately?

Thank you for having me again! I have been super busy. In the last few months I left the military, took my first vacation out of the country, sold our house, moved across the state, and then wrote an entire album in a few months.

You’ve got new music! How does it feel to have Plague Bearer done and under your belt?

It feels awesome! I think this is the most proud I have been of any creative venture and holding on to it, even for a few weeks, was torture. I wanted to just share it with everyone and it had been over two years since I had put out a larger release.

What cool toys and tricks do you use to get your unique sound?

I recently picked up the Erica Synths Pico System II and broken into modular synthesizers like I always wanted. That is honestly about 98% of what this album was written with. I also modified a Gameboy Color with a variable clock module so I can write in LSDJ and then adjust the speed and pitch of tracks on the fly. I used this for lots of the little crunchy video game explosion sounds. I know they say it's not the synths you have it's how you make music and that I still believe is very true. That being said, having this new tool has been like having a piece of equipment that can read your mind and come up with some really crazy ideas.

What drives your creative process? Do you plan things out or do the songs happen more organically?

For prior releases I did a lot of planning, I actually had like three releases planned out with sketches and track names and stuff and I kept feeling stuck. I was getting really disillusioned with not putting out more music. I would sit down and try to write a sound while trying to fit a more "darksynth" specific mold and I was just having trouble. I accidentally deleted a bunch of files and I think that might have been a good thing. I sat down to write this album based entirely on what sounded good and I think that was the most freeing and creative thing I could have done. The joy of getting into modular synthesizers is how chaotic they are and if you don't keep track of your patches every time you use it you can come up with a new sound. I tried to apply that to this album and introduce some chaos into the world.

What have you been listening to these days?

Mostly any kind of weird and heavy electronic stuff I can get my hands on, which is probably apparent when you listen to the album. Lots of The Algorithm, Huoratron, Igorrr, and Author & Punisher to name a few.

If you had to pick one movie, one book, and one album that you’d be stuck with exclusively the rest of your life, what are you choosing?

For movies I would have to say Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I watch that every year on my birthday if not more often. I really enjoy Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game a crazy sic-fi book I read in middle school and come back to quite a bit. Album is tough, I go in cycles where I listen to something that I am really into until I get sick of it so right now I'd say Huoratron-XXVI Crimes of Love.

What can we look forward to from Unholy Rat King in 2019?

The biggest thing is probably more live shows. I've been in contact with some folks here in Minnesota, and we've been talking about organizing a show, possibly many shows this year,  but I am super excited about playing live some more. More music too ha ha. Leaving the military has given me a lot more free time and I would like to use that to really hone and improve the small amount of musical skills I have now and keep making weird music for people.

Any parting words before we go?

I just want to thank you for having me and supporting me since day one. A big thank you to anyone that has listened to my music, shared it, purchased it, or streamed it. Keep doing it. Keep telling others about indie creatives it means the damn world to us.

James Mitchell

Published July 23, 2019

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