The Master of the Macabre once asserted that for something to have exquisite beauty, it needed a proportion of strangeness. Dutch symphonic black metal band Carach Angren, have been chasing that phantasm since back in 2004, when they released their first affliction, The Chase Vault Tragedy. Though noticeably raw and unpolished, it went on to become an honest precursor of Carach Angren‘s ultimate destiny. The haunted tale of Lammendam and its ghostly inhabitant followed four years later, picking up where Anorexia Nervosa left off. Adopting a slightly quicker release schedule, Death Came Through a Phantom Ship, Where the Corpses Sink Forever and This Is No Fairytale followed suite, each more dramatical than the last. Despite some marked hits (“The Funerary Dirge of a Violinist” being their strongest), at this point in the band’s career, it seems Carach Angren have pretty much honed their sound and refined their concepts to the point that they’re bordering on formulaic and rut-like… That leads me to these nefarious characters latest release – Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten. Am I anticipating the album’s release despite acknowledgement of the band’s sound heading toward stagnation? My answer is an emphatic yes!
After a lengthy North American tour as the special guests of Kataklysm, beginning in California, traversing the outskirts of Long Island (New York) and wrapping up in Florida, I’m expected some Kataklysm melodic death-isms to wheedle its way into Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten. In short I was expecting a shakeup. Beginning with the aptly titled “Opening,” the song is little more than an extension of “Charlie” the following track. Falling somewhere between Harry Potter and “Fear and Wonder” off Dimmu Borgir‘s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, the song is cinematic and vivid, climaxing just in time for a seamless transition. “Charlie” takes a few seconds to get off the ground, initially not feeling much different from the band’s earlier works, but further into the track it develops a more striking personality and a heaviness that I’d like to attribute to the time spent with Kataklysm. As one of the shorter tracks on Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten, it’s also one of the few tracks that ends right as it’s hitting its sweet spot.
“Blood Queen” and “Charles Francis Coghlan” are the tracks I return to most often on the album. Though both could do with considerable shortening, “Blood Queen” has a nice aggressive little Dark Tranquility-inspired intro and some over-the-top vocal theatrics, a nod to the Swedish style of black metal that I enjoy. “Charles Francis Coghlan,” explores the obscure life and death of Coghlan, a lawyer turned Anglo-Irish actor and playwright, and his “homing coffin.” Passionate keyboards, chunky guitar riffing, haunting violins and dramatic vocal shifts give the song an endearing theatrical flourish. Ultimately, I can’t help thinking that these songs play out as the sinister equivalent of a production destined for Broadway.
The biggest shocker of the album comes about in the form of “In De Naam Van De Duivel.” Not having heard a lick of Afrikaans since leaving South Africa in 2014, I actually did a double-take at hearing what sounded to me like Afrikaans. Since 90% of Afrikaans vocabulary has a Dutch origin, it ends up giving this bombastic and bilingual track an endearing quality that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. Across the remainder of Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten, there’s no particular track that makes this a must-have album, though there are moments that entertain enough to keep you listening – The arcade game melody that propels “Pitch Black Box” dangerously close to Vesania territory and the unhinged screeching effect that lurks behind “The Possession Process” bringing to mind Hellwell, are just two examples of what this troupe have in store for you.
Carach Angren have taken their similarity to Dark Tranquility, Dimmu Borgir and Vesania and applied it to frightful atmosphere, uplifting piano melodies and vivid symphonic passages with a healthy dose of corpse paint and melodrama. Though not essential, and somewhat overlong, Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten is good none-the-less, and the more I hear this album, the more the songs root themselves into my cranium. The concept, a girl playing with a Ouija board seemed a little thin at first, but Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten ends up being a memorable album, built around a series of obscure and interesting stories that on their own have prompted me to read further.