Sometimes theatrics are just part of the show, there’s nothing else to it. Or they can be part of a band’s DNA, out of which their style and lifeblood emerges. Just look at bands like Cradle of Filth, whose works would be rated much differently, were you to judge them by the music only. Yet – as it turns out – their on-stage and on-clip performance plays an almost equally important role in their fans’ perception. And by that same token for the reviewers and critics as well.
This is something we will see more of, as the music industry evolves further, by the way. I detect this tendency towards more and better integrated multi-media productions. And here we have metal bands already playing that game, at a somewhat nerdy level of mastery.
The Dutch outfit Carach Angren fits right into this august group of theatrically challenged bands from inside Extreme Metal. Their style dwells where Black Metal never really was. With a mighty shot of Gothic and Symphonic Metal geekery, filled with this delicious scent of black magick and otherwordly malice. No doubt Carach Angren like to call themselves Symphonic Black Metal. Yet I am really tempted to throw the cinematic attribute into the fray to complicate matters further. The band clearly has this taste for the bombast of moving pictures. For epic productions, built on blackened stages of pure metal.
It is thus not surprising that their 5th studio album Dance and Laugh Amongst The Rotten sounds like a blasphemous mixture of Fleshgod Apocalypse, the aforementioned Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. Plus a hint of Rotting Christ at certain moments. The album steps right into the universe of Carach Angren complete with actual tales hidden in all that blackened cheese.
Actual lyrics with real stories, that is a pretty cool feature, and a well-known trademark of this band. Of course, all of them words are steeped in death, hauntings and other strange exploits of the obscure. And the lyrics would be nothing without the somewhat gleeful belting of Seregor aka Dennis Droomers. His vocal modulating powers continue to amaze with a myriad of evil voices that carry a lot of the success of this album.
Throughout Dance and Laugh Amongst The Rotten you constantly expect a curtain to open and to find yourself on stage with a large audience applauding. I get exactly the same feeling with Fleshgod Apocalypse, when these boys let loose. Only here the performance is by far more theatrically astute. You constantly get this impression of being in a darkly ominous musical, driven by primeval urges. And all of that expressed in Victorian, blood-drenched arrangements, vampire fangs and all included. A real Gothic arrangement on a stage of deep, dark Black Metal.
Carach Angren have without doubt honed their skills since the beginnings of their relatively short career. Yet, for those expecting something spectacularly new, prepare to be disappointed. The album projects – if anything – proof of maturity with a twist to a darker, cinematic and much more savvy way of presenting their fare. The crusty Pitch Black Box be my witness.
I admit – however – that already the Opening of Dance and Laugh Amongst The Rotten raised my eyebrows. And not in a good way, because overblown orchestral shenanigans at the start of an album have become dime-a-dozen. Just not what the doctor ordered. This almost got the disk squished out of hand. But then, along comes Charlie, that delicious dialogue with the daemon. A story about an Ouja board experiment gone awfully awry. And this track bristles with harsh blast beats, dark riffing and genuine Black Metal antics that really get on your good side.
You’ll also find jewels like Blood Queen that speedily takes off at first, but gets to be so CoF later that disappointment sets in when Dani’s screams don’t emerge. ‘Tis about a queen not able to conceive and taking to magic to solve this. With bloodcurdling lyrics like “She reaches for the infant, so sweet / but the mirror cracks and its eyes start to bleed”. Carach Angren‘s stellar storytelling at its very best. If your fancy is more traditional Black Metal fare, then you might want to try In the Naam Van de Duivel. Still the track clearly remains in Carach Angren‘s style and will never qualify for purist-ready Black Metal from the fiery pit.
At the end of the day, Dance and Laugh Amongst The Rotten is a tight and tightly executed piece of work. Carach Angren did not visit any new places for sure. But instead decided to follow the course set by their former works. Following straight in the footsteps of their brethren like Dimmu Borgir for instance. Yet, the record is expertly produced, mixed and mastered, not one blotch of corpse paint out of place. And this down to the outstanding videos that currently circle YouTube like hungry ravens waiting for something dead to turn up.
Dance and Laugh Amongst The Rotten will take you for an enjoyable horror-laden and terror-infused ride. Not into new territory, but onto well traveled grounds with a confident swagger smothered in corpse paint. But it is a journey well worth your while.