(DGR reviews the latest album by the Dutch band Carach Angren., which is out now on Season of Mist.)
One of the things I love about Carach Angren is how divisive they are amongst the staff at this site. For some, they’re “LARP-Friendly black metal” and for others they’re an enjoyable band. When it comes to a genre like symphonic black, I own up to it time and time again that I am, in large part, an idiot.
I scratch the surface of the genre but it has been a huge blind spot for me, as has black metal as a whole; when it comes to the great divide of metal, between the black metal and the death metal guys, I tend to fall on the death metal side of the spectrum. I like my fair share of death metal bands masquerading as black metal groups, but rarely the traditional, ethereal, and anguish-fueled howls or the purposefully roughly-produced walls of sound of the early generations of proper black metal — which roughly translates to me being perfectly OK with Carach Angren and their symphonic horror tomes.
I think a large part of this is how you see the band. For me, Carach Angren are a group of storytellers who happen to really love their camp. They’ve never been the most black metal thing out there, and frankly, their stories have never been the most traditionally black metal out there, having covered a battlefield or two and even doing a nautical-themed disc, though the latter has become a bit more common and has been done increasingly well by other bands. The only thing you can be sure of is that the body count on a Carach Angren disc is probably going to be high and no one is going to escape happily. I’ve never had a thought of , “Well, this oughta end just swell for this character!”, when listening to a Carach Angren album, instead just counting down the minutes until their inevitable end.
all photos in this review by Negakinu Photography & Design
The group have acquired a campy element to their storytelling style. It’s like being gathering around a fire to hear ghost stories and the tales of all things ghoulish. For me, Carach Angren are the the band where The Crypt Keeper learned how to blast-beat and play guitar (and lately the band’s imagery has supported this theory).
I’ve enjoyed the last two Carach Angren albums tremendously, with Death Came Through A Phantom Ship just barely edging out Where The Corpses Sink Forever in my mind — though I can’t deny the strength of “Lingering In An Imprint Haunting”, even now a few years later. Clearly, the band have some lofty hurdles to clear with their new disc, one that sees them tackling rarely used subject matter in a twisted version of Hansel and Gretel. This Is No Fairytale has its main twist laid out before you from the start, as few albums have; then again, nothing ever goes smoothly in a Carach Angren album.
This Is No Fairytale is probably the band’s most traditionally black metal disc next to their 2008 release Lammendam. On the group’s last two albums, Carach Angren wove a lot of symphonic work into their music, at times letting it overpower the band themselves. When it comes to their symphonic work, the group have leaned heavily on the synthesized pianos and string sections of the orchestra — often leading to songs in which the violin played a hefty role in their music. This Is No Fairytale is more straightforward than that, with the band going heavy on the instruments this time and each one running at top speed.
Drummer Namtar, for instance, spends a huge chunk of the album just blasting his way through everything, his sticks rattling off the snare drum like bullets hitting the side of a car. Vocalist Seregor, in addition to delivering some buzzsaw ripping guitar work, spends the album barking away lyrics with rapid precision and snarling fury. As noted earlier, the narrative being delivered on This Is No Fairytale reads like a twisted version of Hansel and Gretel, with two children living massively tortured lives running the gamut from a horrible father to a drug-addicted mother and everything in between; the group pretty much paint those two parents as the worst people on Earth and they cover some fairly uncomfortable subject matter.
There’s some fairly catchy music interspersed throughout, with much of the melody again relegated to the symphonic works provided by Ardek, and he’s pretty much throwing everything and the kitchen sink into much of the music present on the album. Guitar-wise, though, the music includes skin-flaying bursts of tremolo guitar, and along with bombing runs on the drums they propel the next huge swath of words forward — the children on this disc must be hastened to their demise and god(s) be damned if Carach Angren take any sort of breather on their path to the ghoulish end.
However, if we could pull back a little bit — I do have some qualms with This Is No Fairytale. Over the course of this disc, it feels a bit like Carach Angren get a little too wrapped up in their own narrative and forget that there is music behind them. Some of the songs, for instance, become giant masses of sound — sometimes indistinguishable save for the narrative, which again, praise be delivered to vocalist Seregor who seems to have a knack for rapid-firing giant mouthfuls of text like someone speed-reading A Tale Of Two Cities. The pace at which these words are delivered is almost relentless and the music behind it is the same, with the band being reduced to a huge wall of blasts and quickly picked guitars.
Of course, the band do have their symphonic element to lean back on, and the narrative they chose to tackle can lead to stuff you would likely NEVER hear uttered anywhere else in black metal, so that helps out a lot. But from time to time, you can get lost on this album. Some folks naturally will be looking for the barbed-wire mass of guitars though, so perhaps the interwoven spikes of metal will appeal to you — but it’s easy to get lost in what song you’re on as the band really kick up the pace.
As strange as it may sound, I found it easy to keep track of where I was by which character has died on the album; the band do make the occasional call-back to the fact that, yes, a certain character is now a lifeless heap, so you can use that to checkpoint your way through the disc if you haven’t quite caught on to what song is doing what yet. Things do get delightfully twisted on This Is No Fairytale, and that keeps things interesting as well.
Still, when compared to Where The Corpses Sink Forever, where each song felt like it had its own hook and gimmick, This Is No Fairytale feels like a huge mass of music, probably the most traditional black metal approach the band have taken to their sound yet. Each song is a massive swarm of writhing guitars and symphonics and string histrionics, with the weirder stuff happening inside of the songs as opposed to a whole track dedicated to it, such as “Spectral Infantry Battalions” from Where The Corpses Sink Forever and “Al betekent het mijn dood” from Death Came Through A Phantom Ship.
Naturally, things go poorly for the characters involved on This Is No Fairytale, but the musical journey is an enjoyable one still. It’s a less distinctive one this time around, but the overall experience is both strange and fascinating, if only to discover what Carach Angren might utter next. It’s not often you get a black metal band swearing up and down about gingerbread houses over blasts with the sort of ferocity usually reserved for existential issues.
It’s a rougher recommend than the previous albums because a lot of the hooks that made the band appeal to me are gone, with the group instead favoring the tornado of sandpaper-and-hurricane wall of razors in their sound that leaves a man’s skin raw. The orchestra that usually backs the band takes the same approach as the guitars, so barring the few breather moments on Fairytale, every single thing on this disc is at eleven. It’s an adrenaline rush for sure, but man, it wears on you to the point where, as the protagonists of this disc are fleeing and weaving their way through the forest, it feels like you’re running as well.
One thing that can be said, though, is that Carach Angren have created four albums with four very different approaches, and that makes for an interesting full-discography run. In the three years that passed between the group’s last album and this one, the band apparently decided that this was the one where they would be as razor-sharp as possible, so fans of the last album may find a more oppressive and abrasive experience than before — yet folks looking for that will be excited by this new one. This Is No Fairytale is Carach Angren’s most extreme tale of horror yet, and if you enjoy the collision of symphonic and black metal and prefer your fare ever so slightly approachable, then Carach Angren have another fine offering of corpses for you to look into.