In an American Aftermath interview that’s hanging on for dear life in Google’s cache, Like Rats guitarist Todd Nief expanded on a post appearing on his Primitive Future blog where he detailed “all of the riffs I can remember purposefully stealing” for 2012’s Like Rats. “With a lot of those stolen riffs, I was more interested in why I liked them, you know? I’ll hear something and be like, ‘What makes this good?’,” Nief said, later sharing, ” … I’ll often try to compose something that accomplishes a similar musical function, but with rearranged details.”
Hashtag honest. That said, Nief’s admission also nails why Like Rats’ sophomore full-length, II, doesn’t stumble during its tight 33-minute running time. This is what happens when five people spend a lot of time asking, “What makes this good?”
Granted, that feeling of craftsmanship might not surface immediately. At first crush, these Chicagoans get lumped in with hardcore-centered bands like Xibalba and Skinfather, in that they too inject strands of classic death metal into a gene pool teeming with workout-friendly beatdowns. Of course, Like Rats’ older sibling band, that path-setting hand-me-down, is what first sets the band apart. Where Skinfather sound like Merauder given a Clandestine gift card to Sunlight Studios, Like Rats take their pointers from Celtic Frost.
That Celtic Frostian, castle-circulating breeze has been a part of Like Rats since their punkier 2009 debut EP. On II, it’s augmented by a groove suggesting early Obituary, or maybe Asphyx, sneaking into everyone’s playlists. Vocalist Daniel Shea even has that revving-up-John-Tardy strangled timbre. But Like Rats isn’t a clone, either to Slowly We Rot or Morbid Tales. You can tell when a band’s sole purpose is borrowing the power of preceding masters in the same way a young Hunter S. Thompson supposedly retyped his classics. Instead, Like Rats take only what they need.
“Gates” — which arrives today via Cvlt Nation — is what they return. Heavy, fun; scratching the same itch as the old-school without explicitly sounding old-school. And all members are contributors. Nief and fellow guitarist John Regan leave a mark without sacrificing atmosphere. Bassist Andy Nelson’s (Weekend Nachos) tone is like throwing a rock into a wishing pool. (Worth mentioning too is his performance on first single “Grief Incarnate”; overtones like bell tolls.) Finally drummer Dan Polak is the secret weapon, efficiently anchoring everything without playing for the spotlight.
And that’s the thing: II is so unshowy, you remain in the moment. When you pull back though, you hear how long it must’ve taken to carve this thing out. Then, it was buffed until the good remained.
II is out 3/25 via Southern Lord.