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One hell of a farewell - 86%

Talonraker422, June 29th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, Digital, Season of Mist (Bandcamp)

Carach Angren have been pumping out their brand of horror-inspired symphonic black metal for a decade and a half now. Despite each album having at its core the same concept and without too much deviation from their norm, the band have managed to keep their sound impressively fresh over the years, varying from the haunting melodies of Lammendam to the utter bleakness of Where the Corpses Sink Forever. And with the release of Franckensteina Strataemontanus, I'm pleased to report that the trio have kept up this trend.

If there's one thing this record proves, it's that Carach Angren's material has to be listened to from start to finish. There's simply no other way about it. Singles such as 'Monster' were on initial release incredibly underwhelming, sapping a lot of my excitement for the album and making me believe we were getting another misstep akin to 2015's This Is No Fairytale. With frankly terrible lyrics, a very muted guitar sound and a bizarre structure that never really goes anywhere, 'Monster' was one of the strangest choices for a single I've heard in recent times. But when heard in the context of the album, nestled between two longer, more typical Carach Angren pieces, it falls into place. The muted guitars become a good match for the overall atmosphere of the album, with the band's trademark haunting synths present to carry most of the melody on their back and the rhythmic guitarwork simply providing a backbone for them to work off.

Carach Angren certainly do make the most of keyboards and orchestration all over Franckensteina Strataemontanus, with the highlight being the wonderful, ethereal yet mournful violin climax reached in 'Sewn for Solitude'. The instrument returns in striking fashion for eight moody minutes to end off the album in 'Like a Conscious Parasite I Roam' seeing it combine with wistful piano and grandiose synths. Every element that's made Franckensteina Strataemontanus what it is comes together to one final, cinematic crescendo before each layer is gradually stripped away. In terms of composition this ending is the highlight of the album, and it makes me wish the violin was used in more places. It's a magnificent instrument and in the closing segments of the record Carach Angren use it to its full potential.

One of my favourite decisions the band have made recently is to increase the presence of melodic clean vocals in their music. The story-like structure of their songs provides a perfect vessel for them to come in when it's most effective, and the singing itself carries with it a genuine poignancy and sense of reflection, especially with the symphonic overtones that often accompany them. The harsh vocals are the same as ever, somewhere between a lower rasping and a classic black metal scream. They once again fit the aesthetic like a glove, leaving us with another very capable performance from Seregor.

All good things, however, must come to an end, and sadly this release will be the last to feature all three members of a prominent extreme metal trifecta. Drummer Namtar's departure was a sad piece of news, but at least he went out on a high note, his interesting rhythmwork adding an extra layer of drama to the story being told.

Overall, Franckensteina Strataemontanus sees Carach Angren doing what they do best - weaving tales of mortality, mystery, ghosts and ghouls, all wrapped up in a neat, symphonic black metal package. It's 50 minutes of the band firing on all cylinders and it comes together in a great fashion. My sole complaint is that the album does lose some momentum in the second half, and the trio of singles in 'Operation Compass', 'Monster' and 'Der Vampir Von Nürnburg' are somewhat below the standard presented elsewhere, but even that is relatively minor in the scheme of a 50 minute album. Carach Angren have returned strong, and hopefully even without Namtar they can carry the momentum forth to new places.

Monster to Many, Friend to None - 100%

Livingwave17, June 26th, 2020

It has been exactly three years since the fine horror craftsmen of Carach Angren have treated us to one of their most captivating works of evil in “Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten”. What better way to celebrate this occasion, if not by contemplating the one horror yet unseen. With “Franckensteina Strataemontanus” our beloved storytellers further extend their sonic palette from what already was a more than diverse patent, whilst still staying true to their core musical elements. Such a sublime creation they have conjured, that it is not at all far fetched to claim it may be the Dutchmen’s best work yet. Reviving the stories of Johann Conrad Dippel and Frankenstein, popular topics around horror-nerds, this latest installment ran the risk of easily becoming prototypical, but it seems we can trust our musical alchemists to twist narratives and history into new and refreshing pieces of artistry every time. Neither the music nor the lyrical content on this album feels repetitive or stagnant in any way.

Fans of olden days have plenty to unpack from this record, as it throws back to “Lammendam” and “Death Came Through a Phantom Ship” in more than one way. Like these records did, the new one kicks off with an isolated event away from the main story in “Scourged Ghoul Undead”, and ends with a dramatic slow and tragic piece. Another aspect that falls in line with the band’s earlier work is the purely disastrous level of “evil” felt in the music, contrasting to the more theatrical and playful approach of the previous album. But all nostalgia aside, there’s a great deal of fresh ideas on this record. Most notably the mix is very different than anything the band has done to this day, cleaner, deeper and somewhat more polished than you’d expect. This allows the abrasive guitar work and Namtar’s patented triggered drums to feel more impacting than ever before. He must be one of the most creative and proficient metal drummers and he’s on full display on this record. And to really pack up all the energy possible, this is the first Carach Angren record where the bass lines are prominent and clearly audible, even taking the spotlight at times.

But on a more creative note, changes can be found in the songwriting department too. With an experiment centered concept, the band has also taken the liberty of a more experimental approach. There are influences from Ardek’s side projects, particularly “Parasite Twin”, giving this record a bit of an industrial tinge and more hook on some of the songs. The likes of “Franckensteina Strataemontanus”, “The Necromancer” or the already released “Monster” are a testament to that, contrasting from Carach Angren’s classic style. These songs are also the only ones with a simple verse chorus structure. The record massively benefits from this fresh approach, with more added hook, groove and a strong marching feel that also leaves space for some outstandingly satisfying new vocal patterns. While less theatrical that the last two, the new album surely isn’t short on a magnificent performance from Seregor. His skeletal tone and expression is unharmed and as unmistakable as always, but as it happens with every record, his interpretation receives an adapted face lift to really bring the story to life.

However, what really makes Carach Angren’s music expressive beyond belief is the orchestra. Ardek has outdone himself here, achieving both atmospheres of terror as well as drama and tragedy. The orchestra creates suspense and eerie anticipation in tracks like “Scourged Ghoul Undead”, “The Necromancer” or “Der Vampir von Nurnberg”. But it’s when tragedy takes precedent that the symphonic component really shines. On “Sewn for Solitude” and the epic closer “Like a Conscious Parasite I Roam” the orchestras just pour out emotion from every instrument and especially on this later one, the mystery and cinematics create scarily beautiful, almost visual soundscapes. Both these tracks also feature guest solo violin by Nikos Mavridis who has participated on every Carach Angren album thus far. This adds a really organic feeling to the songs, contrasting against the psychotic tone of the overall record.

As you have probably noticed, yours truly is rather evasive when it comes to describing the events that occur in the story. That is simply because the Dutchmen do it way better, and I felt like piecing together the concept is always one of the great joys of discovering any album from Carach Angren. One thing however is to be expected. They will add some twist to it… or several… and like with the previous record, you may or may not find some shock factor at the end. So, I wish you a fascinating investigation in discovering all the little pieces that create yet another amazing concept from the finest storytellers in The Netherlands. “Frankensteina Strataemontanus” has resurrected Johann Conrad Dippel’s mangled soul today, and you can pick up his tale of unholy witchery from Season of Mist.

Enjoy!

Written for The Metal Observer.