By Christine Leonard
Disclosure: Ian Lemke of BlackRat occasionally writes for BeatRoute Magazine.
CALGARY — Infesting the fetid basements and lamp-lit alleyways of Calgary, Alberta since mid-2012, the omnivorous trio known as BlackRat has managed to carve out a pretty comfortable niche for themselves in the bowels of Calgary’s underground metal scene. United by a love of low-brow motifs and high-speed ferocity, guitarist-vocalist Ian Lemke (Witchstone, Savage Streets), bassist-vocalist Stu Loughlin (Savage Streets), and deathproof drummer Russell “Rust” Shanahan unveiled their raw-headed debut LP Whiskey and Blasphemy (Xnihilo Records) back in 2013, following the release of their six-song demo earlier that same year.
The spark of that initial momentum has built to an inextinguishable firestorm as BlackRat prepares for the official launch their next full-length album, Hail to Hades, chiefly dedicated to those ‘80s metal pioneers who explored the “concept of evil music when it was new!” Pursuing support for their latest collection of visceral tunes, the threesome found an ally in Regina-based label/distro hub No Sanctuary Records, who are “dedicated to preserving and spreading the noise of old school punk and metal through vinyl and cassette format.”
“The proprietor of No Sanctuary Records, Jeremy Knourek, is a really rad dude who’s into metal and punk in Canada. There’s not a huge number of people doing do-it-yourself releases. So, we just kind of gave him a shout and he was immediately like ‘Yeah, I’m down to co-release a limited-pressing of 300 records with you guys!’” Lemke explains. “We were about to release it independently, so it was nice to have a bit more cash to help finish it up and get going with the distribution. It was just good timing.”
Good timing and an ideal fit for the pestilent Calgarians, who already had their beady eyes focused on the prize of producing their new album at the only record pressing plant in Canada.
“I work at Canada Boy Vinyl,” Lemke explains. “Obviously, that hook-up also made it a no-brainer for us to press here. Our technician, Ian Dillan (The Electric Revival) was kind enough to guide me through cutting my own record, even though I’m not an engineer. Which was really cool, but nerve wracking. Essentially you’re playing the record at 100 watts of power through a needle into this sort of acetate lacquer. I don’t think a lot of people get to do that, so I was stoked.”
Evidence that putting a project on the backburner isn’t always a detriment, BlackRat has demonstrated remarkable resiliency in returning to their dark ministrations after a nasty turn that almost ended their existence as a band.
“This whole album was written by the end of summer 2014 and we were supposed to record it that October. But then, one fateful night, we were getting drunk in the graveyard, which we do, because we’re idiots,” Lemke begins.
“And, we were on our way to a house party at a friend’s house. And I wanted to impress Ian and Stu with some sweet moves,” says Rust picking up the rat-tale of woe. “I ended up falling four to six metres over the rail at the Bridgeland C-Train station and fracturing my skull. It was a bummer. I also lost the hearing in my right ear. So, that’s been an interesting change. But, I’m still alive so that’s awesome. I had to relearn a little bit and take speech therapy. It was interesting jamming for first time. I’d get headaches; have to stop. I’d get dizzy and almost pass out while playing. It was a weird, but the funny thing is I think I got better at drums.”
An astrophysicist, Rust recorded the drum tracks for Hail to Hades under the largest dome at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.The remainder was recorded at Lemke and Locklin’s homes; the album was captured by Luis Ergon. In the end, he’d contribute his life’s blood before the project was to see the light of day.
“We didn’t think this was ever going to happen. That we’d ever make this album,” says Lemke. “If you look on the album insert there’s this very blurry, barely visible image and it’s Russell’s face when he was unconscious after he fell. We figured he probably want a picture of how fucked up his head was. At the time we didn’t know how serious his injury was. It was fucked. Medically, he should have died.”
Remarkably, a couple of return-shows later and the hard-to-kill Blackrat, Rust, was “back up to snuff.” Suddenly, Hail to Hades had a future and a significance not lost on its close-knit conspirators.
BlackRat play their album release party on May 13 at Filthy McNasty’s in Edmonton. They will play their Calgary release show at Broken City in Calgary on June 10th with Mortillery.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article published in BeatRoute incorrectly referred to Ian Dillon as Ian Dylan. We apologize for the error.AB, Alberta, BlackRat, Broken City, Filthy McNasty’s