Symphonic black metal was born out of the original Norwegian scene in the 90s. In the same years that Darkthrone and Immortal were making their most classic releases, Dimmu Borgir and Emperor were adding synths and keyboards to the black metal sound. The genre expanded and experienced a peak mainstream appeal in the 2000s with a handful of the surviving Norwegian bands as well as other legends like Cradle of Filth and Anorexia Nervosa leading the charge. Today, these records are often written off as too commercial and overly cheesy, remembered with a fond nostalgia at best and an urge to erase them from history at worse. Regardless of its arguable merit, the symphonic black metal sound barely thrives today. Rather than deal in dramatic orchestral arrangements, current black metal albums usually find new extremes in dissonance or break new ground by merging with more melodic genres like shoegaze and post-rock. Carach Angren brings black metal back to a more theatrical sound and has no problem with going over the top. But is the result something stomachable or anything close to the old classics?
Let’s start with the good news. Carach Angren successfully recreates the sounds of classic symphonic black metal with all the same quality and detail. The tight production and ever-changing textures of Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten harken back to a time when Midian and Death Cult Armageddon reigned supreme. With this particular genre being so out of style right now, Carach must really love those old records and that love shines with creative arrangements and evil, gleeful abandon. The band understands how to balance dissonance, beauty, and theatrics for the perfect gothic and spooky blend.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of Carach Angren, the band specializes in storytelling. The opening track of this album, “Charlie”, is a perfect introductory course. Starting with ghostly ambiance, the track quickly evolves into blast beats and jerky black metal riffing. Vocalist, Seregor, tells a ghastly tale of some kids messing around with a ouija board. The fairly typical ghost story is enhanced significantly by the complex music and diverse vocal approach. Much like King Diamond or Dani Filth, Seregor morphs his voice into a plethora of creepy voices to represent each character and mood of the story. This coupled together with the cinematic orchestral arrangements provide a truly entertaining experience. Most tracks feature some catchy hook as well adding even more to the fun. The track, “Song for the Dead”, a slower palette cleanser in the middle of the album, will stay in your head for days.
It’s difficult to find more things to say about something that so perfectly emulates a lost era while still keeping it modern. Each song is masterfully crafted and compacted to provide the highest amount of exciting content and no time is wasted. The longest track, “In De Naam Van De Duivel” is only six and a half minutes and it is absolutely brilliant. As the story builds to its twist (no spoilers here) around the 3:40 mark, there’s a particular riff that is so clever and slick, it’s hard not to crack a smile, even within the haunting tale.
The only unfavorable aspect of this album is a handful of cringe moments where the drama is taken just a tad too far. For example, in the previously mentioned track, “In De Naam Van De Duivel”, Seregor delivers the line, “And so the witch twists her tongue, reversing the tale” with an unbearably cheesy tongue-sound that would make most Disney villains cower and cringe. Other moments on the album like this usually happen when Seregor stretches out a line too far, lines that are completely inconsequential like, “Charles Francis Coghlan moved from Ireland to the United States of America”. These sorts of errors come with the genre, though. If you can stand King Diamond wailing “GRANDMAAAAAA!” then you can stomach these guys.
Overall, Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten is worth the trouble. It brings black metal back to a time mostly forgotten. Ignore the terrible cover. This album is brilliant. Remember the 2000s with us and stop acting too cool for In Sorte Diaboli.
Carach Angren’s Dance And Laugh Amongst the Rotten is out now through Season of Mist. You can purchase it on SoM’s website here.