(In this long post we have not one but two extended reviews by DGR, one focusing on the 2017 album by the Greek band Nightrage and the second dwelling upon the 2017 album by the Dutch storytellers in Carach Angren.)
If there is one thing I’m a big fan of doing throughout the year, it’s the inevitable dive backwards into the earlier part of the year in order to play the increasingly desperate catch-up game, to write about releases I’ve been listening to, but never took the time out to say anything about. I’ve got a handful of those, and now that I have a little bit more free time from the day-job (which will be brief, let me tell you, the holiday season approaches) I can finally talk about two pretty constant spins from 2017 that NCS hasn’t had the chance to cover yet, completely glossing over the fact that I’m the guy at the site who will usually wave the flag for both bands.
The two this time around are melodeath stalwarts Nightrage and their seventh (!) album, The Venomous, and the latest batch of supernatural symphonic shenanigans from Carach Angren and their album Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten.
Nightrage – The Venomous
Without descending too much into an image of me in a room with newspaper articles and photos all connected with string in so many ways that I can barely move around inside of it, disheveled with a half-drunk cup of coffee that has somehow managed to turn semi-solid, screaming that “there has to be some sort of connection here!”, I’m starting to think that the melodeath crew of Nightrage have developed a pattern. It’s one I hoped that with the March release of their album The Venomous, the band would manage to break.
It seems as if the Nightrage team are fans of the “every other album” approach, with the lineup shifting in between and oftentimes the vocalist getting replaced in the process. Somehow, the band have managed to keep going, becoming something of a melodeath bedrock, but outside of vocalist Jimmie Strimmel, every frontman in Nightrage has done two albums, and it feels like musically the band cycles around that. The first disc with the new vocalist will be scrappy, a little recognizable and familiar, but with something to prove. The following disc is more confident and solid; in fact, during the group’s Sweet Vengeance to Descent Into Chaos era, you can hear the group’s mastery of the genre solidify.
I’ve been a fan of Nightrage for a long time, and actually have a deep and abiding love for the Wearing A Martyr’s Crown and Insidious releases, and envy no one who steps into the microphone position for the band. There’s been such an array of talent holding the microphone over the years, and current Nightrage vocalist Ronnie Nyman managed to fit right in on the group’s 2015 album The Puritan, and has now solidified it with The Venomous.
One of the more exciting things with The Venomous is actually seeing project founder and guitarist Marios Iliopoulos surrounded by a full lineup again. The transition from Insidious to The Puritan saw a big shift in the Nightrage roster and upon its release, The Puritan felt scrappy, a thinner and sleeker beast, out to prove that Nightrage still had a place here. The Venomous finds that roster filled out. And from the sound of it, Nightrage are much more comfortable and ready to get down to business.
There’s no aggression lost, but The Venomous feels like a more focused record, one filled to the brim with guitar melodies and packed away riffs. The band pull from a longstanding career of melodeath playing and seek to break no boundaries, instead just putting out a solid release meant to make you headbang and hum along. There’s quite a few power-chorus sing-along moments on The Venomous, most blatantly during the mid-tempo stomper of the song “Affliction”, but if you’re like me and seek the faster tracks, Nightrage have you covered from about the second song on.
“Metamorphosis/Day Of Wrath” is the one that really ratchets the speed up a notch and, with it appearing so early on the disc, shows that the band still have a knack for the melodeath two-step riff; and there are plenty of opportunities to hear it broken out across the album. In fact, a large part of The Venomous basically dances between the one-two, one-two speed hit and the more rhythm-driven mid-tempo songs. There’s little in the way of anything super slow, save for the closing instrumental song “Denial Of Soul”, which honestly feels like the band segued right into it from “Desolation and Dismay”.
If there is one hiccup to note about The Venomous it is that the disc is paced a little strangely. “Metamorphosis/Day Of Wrath” feels like an album opener. In fact, there’s a longstanding tradition of metal bands putting the super-fast song up front in order to kick events off. The Venomous doesn’t do that, but instead opens with its more restrained title song. The transition between the two is where the shift in sound is noticeable, because the opening title track closes out neatly, and then all of a sudden “Metamophosis” kicks on with absolutely no build-up. You get the sense that “Metamorphosis” was meant to be up-front, but for some reason “The Venomous” starts things off a little calmer before things accelerate into high gear.
But when you have songs like “Catharsis”, “The Blood”, and “Disturbia” packed away in your track list, it’s easy to forgive any strange pacing issues throughout the whole disc. Because with Nightrage back in full force, The Venomous has the band doing what they do best. There’s a reason why I’ve often referred to the Nightrage crew as standard bearers — they found a sound, and whilst they’ve iterated on it, they’re still one of the go-to’s for a style that a lot of bands have since strayed from.
It helps that Marios Iliopoulos now has something of a masters degree in writing guitar melodies. If the song isn’t a relentlessly moving bull-charge forward, he’s kicking out parts that seem to gnaw their way into your head. While I’m a huge fan of the on-rush of fast riffing and that one-two constant pace of the faster songs, the occasional sing-song melody certainly hasn’t hurt The Venomous as a whole. If anything, as the the band’s seventh album, The Venomous is probably one of the most recognizably Nightrage discs out there — a solid blast of melodeath fueled by catchy guitar work and some dogged high screaming. The Venomous shows Nightrage at what feels like their strongest in a long time.
Carach Angren – Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten
The title of Carach Angren’s fifth disc, Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten, likely holds just as much meaning when applied to the band themselves as it does the album that bears its name. In a way, it describes what the ghoulish symphonic storytellers have done with their career — gathering people around the fire to tell another ghost story of haunts and depravity, often blood-soaked and or fueled, more times than not lightly seasoned with suicide (it’s actually something of a Carach Angren calling card that at least some of the overall body count is going to be self-inflicted).
Their albums are chock full of one-upsmanship horror shows and it has led to a now nearly thirteen-year career specializing in all forms of ghouls ‘n’ ghosts, full of tales in song form, covering a swath of topics you normally wouldn’t see a group caked in corpsepaint covering. The subject matter lends itself to the theatricality of the music, which is probably why it has held such an attraction for the band, as they’ve made albums covering your standard ghostly haunts, a nautical ghost ship, the hauntings of a world war, and a twisted take on the tale of Hansel and Gretel.
And so Carach Angren themselves have been dancing and laughing amongst the rotten, and now they have an album named as such — one in which they return to the ghost realm and deal with hauntings and insanity once again.
Although the core of Carach Angren’s music is still recognizable on Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten, it continues their trend of making every album different from its predecessor. The band still play with a flair for symphonic theatricality, but they have again pivoted their sound in favor of the story that they decide to tell.
Dance’s immediate predecessor, This Is No Fairytale, basically kept to one tempo, probably the most barbed-wire sharp and sleek the band have let their guitar sound get. It packed a lot of story into nine songs, one ghoulish event after another, toppling out over each other at an increasingly fast pace. Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten shifts from that, bringing the symphonic works back to the forefront, as well as including a handful of songs that have a solid and sharp sense of groove to them. There’s still a fair amount of camp buried in the group’s music, and though the budget has clearly increased, the Carach Angren crew are still ghost-story weavers by campfire. They can just afford nicer props.
Instead of one, almost ceaseless, tale, Carach Angren attempt to weave a few different ones together into one overarching theme, and by doing so leave the music side of things open to a bit of experimentation — including the fact that the track “Song For The Dead” is mostly a monologue with quiet instrumentation in the background and a sweeping chorus. In between the more recognizable tracks like opener “Charlie” and the high speed groove turned horror show that is “Blood Queen”, there are some interesting highlights. It turns out, actually, that the personal highlight song on this end is the militaristic stomp and beating via snare drum that is “PITCH. BLACK. BOX”, which is built heavily around its three-word title and is basically constructed for crowd shouting. Considering that I also find myself constantly humming “Spectral Infantry Battalions” from Where The Corpses Sink Forever, it might just be that I really enjoy the martial songs that the band occasionally delve into.
Lyrically, Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten is a little disjointed in comparison to earlier efforts from the Carach Angren team. Previous discs have usually had one unifying concept and often told one story. Dance And Laugh has a thematically similar concept but the overall story is disconnected, tied up amongst a handful of songs, and the rest of the tracks are one-off horrorshows of their own accord.
Thus, “Song For The Dead”, which contains the words “I dance and laugh amongst the rotten”, doesn’t really have anything to do with the initial haunts portrayed on the album. It is instead its own testament to fetishism of the dead and the sort of ghoulish acts one might get up to while wearing their hair…for instance. “In De Naam Van De Duivel” — in my only attempt to type that — is even less connected, more of a (strange as this sounds) bog-standard tragic murder-story with a check in front Satan and a good ole’ fashioned throat-cutting.
This doesn’t mean that the usual expected high body count doesn’t make an appearance on the disc, but instead the arcs throughout Dance And Laugh are much shorter, and in the case of the “Charlie” arc, fairly straightforward by comparison. There’s no carnie-esque one-upping in terms of just how bad things get; instead, it’s a simple case of haunting, obsession, possession, and likely… death. It’s a little less Tales From The Crypt movie and more Tales From The Crypt tv show. It does lead to one of my favorite musical moments of 2017, which is where Carach Angren’s ambition for storytelling overruns the music just a tiny bit during the song (and actually something of a catchy single given it’s “Rising star, reaching far!” refrain), “Charles Francis Coghlan”, in which they describe his journey — with tremendous and ominous emphasis — to the United STATES of AMERICAAAAAAAAAAA.
As strange as it sounds, Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten is probably the “lightest” Carach Angren release to date. It has its heavy moments, but the tale woven throughout is a lot more focused on the interplay between a small cast of characters with the occasional vignette to break things up. Musically, Dance And Laugh feels like the album where Carach Angren were finally able to access all of the symphonic tools they’ve ever wanted to use, and so it finds itself in the position of being the most diverse Carach Angren album. Where previous discs had a recognizable throughline, this go-around, there’s multiple songs that stand on their own, and the songsmiths don’t shy away from trying new things.
They’ve never been a band constained by convention, and describing the multiple stories the band have told over the years shows that while they certainly rejoice in everything grim and dark, they’re trying to do so without going to the usual well that so many bands draw from. There are no ultra-dark rituals or worship present. Instead, as mentioned before, Carach Angren are like a traveling troupe of ghost story tellers and Dance is another tale for them to draw upon. The most high-budget one for sure, and one that sees them once again dishing out a handful of absolutely catchy songs buried amongst the bodies of another ghost story.