(This is the sixth installment in a seven-album review orgy by our man DGR, who is attempting to free his mind for year-end season by clearing away a backlog of write-ups for albums he has enjoyed in 2020. With one exception we’ve been running these on consecutive days, and today’s subject is the latest album by the Dutch metal band Carach Angren, released in June by Season of Mist.)
Carach Angren armed with a budget is proving to be a dangerous thing indeed.
I can’t claim to have gotten in on the ground floor with these ghouls, but I can say that I showed up pretty damned close to it and have been following the group since then. It’s been fun to watch as they’ve grown in stature and advanced their career while at the same time maintaining a fair share of ‘camp’ in their music.
It’s a personal thing but I’ve never considered them a full-blown black metal group, but instead have always viewed them as ghost storytellers first, with the music shifting and shaping itself to fit that. The auspices of black metal fit what they were trying to do, and the backing symphonics lent themselves well to what was initially a pretty scrappy three-piece starting out. Sometimes the music can feel a little secondary to the stories being woven before the listener, but as the band have gone further in their career – and, as joked above, their budget has increased – they’ve found and refined their music so that the push and pull of them telling ghost stories by shadow of fire is a little less obvious.
So while I cannot claim to have been present for the initial release of the hauntings of Lammendam, I’ve been here for the journey of a haunted ship, the tragedies of war, the gruesome tale of a Hansel and Gretyl, and the ghostly traveling show that was Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten since. So, it’s not shocking to see Carach Angren gather people around the fire again – this time for tales of medical experimentation and necromancy, all tied together behind the veil of a Frankenstein’s monster story.
Franckensteina… is a natural continuation of the path that Carach Angren had started down with Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten, more fully formed and focused. That means that the band continue to expand their sonic palette, continuing to absorb different elements of symphonic death and symphonic black into their sound, at times almost completely shedding it in favor of a straightforward horror movie stomp, and a few times across Franckensteina… making full use of a low and intoned clean-sung voice that could bring about comparisons to The Vision Bleak.
Carach Angren fancy themselves a spectacle and indeed create one here, with the subject matter more focused than a scattering of horror tales working in their benefit. There’s a ton of sweeping orchestration throughout, and the band call upon their friend Nikos Mavridis to once again contribute violin work to the album, adding to a long tenure that stretches almost the length of Carach Angren‘s overall career. These differing elements and the general absorbing of different styles will likely make Franckensteina… one of their more approachable discs, especially in the face of the sort of razor-wire guitar riffing that was present on This Is No Fairytale, which seemed to be the group pushing that particular style to the breaking point. The fact that Franckensteina… is a more dynamic tale by nature actually brings it closer in line with the group’s 2012 release Where The Corpses Sink Forever than one might initially expect.
Carach Angren still harbor grand ambitions on Franckensteina Strataemontanus, so those who might have worried that some of the farther-reaching songs might’ve been shed shouldn’t worry. Songs like “Der Vampir”, “Operation Compass”, and the closing song “Like A Conscious Parasite I Roam” all clear the six-plus-minute mark, and very little of the time is spent on quiet ambience. The group get up to some atmosphere-building on the album, but most of it folds well within the songs; there’s very little ‘symphonic break for symphonic section because we have to’ appearing here.
If anything, this one marks at least the second album this year to have narration throughout it that has landed on our comfortable corner of the interwebs – the other being Ayreon’s Transitus disc, which is something so far on the opposite end of the musical spectrum it would be comedic to compare them. It’s a good thing that we’ve had since late June – almost four months to the day as of this writing – to sit down with it, because examining all the different approaches and angles that Carach Angren take here has been an adventure in its own right.
They’ve honed in on their sound and refined it for Franckensteina…. It is sonically a farther-reaching album than what they’ve done before but still recognizably ‘them’. It’s fairly easy to see how people who joined the ride during the Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten-era might fall in love with this one. If you’re a longer-time fan who has enjoyed watching how the band have shifted and metamorphosed as they’ve gained recognition, this one is a fun listen as well. Franckensteina Strataemontanus‘ more approachable nature will likely continue to get up-turned noses from the more kvlt among us, but if you’re the type who has previously enjoyed the continuing ghoulish adventures the band have been up to, then this one is still an an easy recommend.