Review: Rattenfanger – Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, also known as Rattenfanger von Hamelin, was initially known through folklore to have lured children for unknown reasons to an unknown fate with his music. Over time, this narrative expanded into the use of his services to incite an exodus of rats, which he then employed on the town’s children after receiving insufficient funds from the townspeople. While the moral is multi-faceted, only one concerns us: don’t fuck with the music maker.

The power of the Pied Piper has radically diminished since his inaugural activities. His music can still lure children from a conventional narrative but their journey is now filled with concession stands along the way, distracting the inspired on their expedition. And the poor Piper, tooting his message of revolt and self-discovery, remains penniless in all versions unless willing to cease his pace and perform for advertising royalties.

While that may not seem directly pertinent, Rattenfanger (which features members of Drudkh, Old Silver Key, Blood of Kingu and more) did well in associating themselves with the original Piper. Their debut LP, Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, is a crushing testament to old school death metal, one filled with obliterating riffs that glorify a time when the genre was still considered a vibrant and threatening movement. Rather than focus on flash, the Ukrainian collective focuses on the deceiving simplicity of a killer riff, with particular nods in style to Bolt Thrower, Obituary and Edge of Sanity. The opening of “Allegoria de Gula et Luxuria” could have been lifted from Cause of Death, while the start of “Deest Remedii Locust…” goes even further back into heavy metal territory. The album locks into such a mid-paced hypnosis that when the blast beats enter at the end of “Allegoria…,” it’s almost startling to hear such modernization. And the vocals, deep and guttural, bellow their incantation in Latin, once again connecting with a deeper sense of history.

Even though it was released late last year, it makes sense that relatively conservative Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum was overlooked amongst more charged efforts. Instead of striving to either redefine or ape the genre, Rattenfanger present such well-played modest death metal that they reinstall faith in the power of the riff to induce fear in authority and structure. It reminds me of a time when the folklore of death metal was stronger than its reality, before it could be used more moderately in a discussion and when it inspired the listener to embark on their own clandestine path.

Rattenfänger – Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum Album stream

-Aaron Maltz