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Symphonic black metal. Truly an exceedingly popular genre around the turn of the century, the more inspired input within this realm has slowly stagnated, filling to the brim with unimpressive, uncreative acts that have done little more than incestuously fondle the bigger names. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s not often that a new project comes along that is really worth taking note of. It’s even rarer that said project skyrockets very early in their career to the midst of the well-known titans, and beyond that, using their own unique twist on established formula and aesthetic archetypes. However, one such band has slogged its way out of the quagmire of average efforts, pulled itself out of the swamp, and built a fucking castle right in the thick of it, peeking even above some of the taller trees. Enter Carach Angren. Enter innovation.
Where the Corpses Sink Forever is the third album by these corpse-painted Netherlanders, and delivers on the promise of the last two with eloquent ferocity, an ever ascending level of quality that has yet to top out, poking out above every other young symphonic black metal act today. And symphonic this is, the majority of the leads and melodies, not to mention the tense, palpable atmosphere, stemming from Ardek and his spine-chilling work on the keys. This is a collection of gruesome, poignant stories pertaining to the horrors of war, each one wrapped in layers of orchestration that infuse the music with a ghastly beauty, a poignant counterpoint to the natural ugliness of the lyrical matter. The guitars, and especially drums, are themselves also quite strong, but they act as supporting role for the dark, soulful classical elements.
Some tracks here cut deeper than others, but this album is meant to be taken in as a whole, digesting the myriad visions and reveling in the splendorous horror. The most unsettling of these are unbelievably potent, their ghastly portrait of humanity digging deep, clawing into your psyche. Bitte Totet Mich is a litany of failed suicide and a spiral of insanity; Sir John, a tale of a cannibalistic surgeon, sinking into madness as he does what he can to live; Little Hector What Have You Done?, a self-fulfilling prophecy of familial carnage… The most poignant of these is The Funerary Dirge of the Violinist, perhaps the single most beautiful song I’ve heard this year, a gentle symphony of life being silenced by the dissonant notes of death.
Unlike the lyrics typical to your average extreme metal album, these are legitimately frightful, but due to atmosphere and believability rather than sick detail. This is the antithesis to b-movie Cannibal Corpse musings, and they’re so penetrating because these painted situations are so possible, rooted in psychology and the breaking of the human spirit. Carach Angren make these stories feel real through their achingly expressive music, and as humans, we resonate with these scenarios, as we recognize our own potential for madness. This is an insightful and untamed peek into the twisted war consciousness, and they have achieved a sense of real, tangible darkness with this technique, far more so than most satan-worshipping, frost-dwelling bands could ever achieve.
The way they construct their songs reminds me, in essence, of Cattle Decapitation, as odd as that sounds. Each of them, this year, have deconstructed their parent genres and reformed them into something new, inspired, and compelling. Unlike that vortex of filth, though, Where the Corpses Sink Forever has a more refined, classical beauty to it, an altogether different vibe than any other band of this ilk I’ve yet experienced, though it utilizes much the same base elements. Not every moment screams out as a masterpiece, granted, and I feel more drawn to some tracks than others, but there are some truly unforgettable moments here, and the compositions are varied enough as to not feel repetitious. Carach Angren’s unique approach to symphonic black metal is a much-needed reinvigoration for this style, with the pomp and beauty of classical music firmly etched into its skin.
This album is absolutely essential for fans of anything blackened, and judging by the loud, overwhelmingly positive reaction that has surrounded it, will be making a strong showing on many years-end lists, including my own. It’s not quite consistent enough to be called a masterpiece, but when it hits, it hits fucking hard, strong enough to make its mark on the landscape, and firmly instill a lot of hopes on their shoulders. This is a band to watch out for, make no mistake.
-Left Hand of Dog