Dutch trio Carach Angren have distinguished themselves over the last 12 years with a series of flamboyant and dramatic concept albums, each using theatrical, symphonic, melodic black metal as a sturdy launching pad, each spiralling quickly into more unorthodox, diverse and purist-baiting impulses, and each honing a narrative-driven approach that feels bolder and more confident than ever on this fascinating sixth platter.
An imaginative retelling of the Frankenstein myth, Franckensteina Strataemontanus ties in timeless themes from Mary Shelley’s 1816 original with the alchemical experiments of occult physician Johann Dippel (the novel’s possible inspiration), plus a 1920s German serial killer, a British military campaign of WWII and a particularly cruel 13th-century Holy Roman Emperor.
It’s a heady brew, reflected in the rich, eclectic arrangements, from the overwhelming orchestral sweep – savour the vibrant horns, emotive piano and flurrying strings of Sewn For Solitude and lush epic Like A Conscious Parasite I Roam – to the more percussive, goth-industrial groove of the quirky title track or the lumbering Monster. As sometime collaborator Till Lindemann will attest, Ardek’s dark orchestral flourishes soar light years ahead of the decorative sonic tinsel that often constitutes BM’s ‘symphonic’ atmospheres, and Franckensteina… further advances this trump card, studio violinist Nikos Mavridis sublimely wrapping his instrument around the band’s frantic cacophony.
Carach Angren have form in both sophisticated storytelling and lurid descriptions of ghastly imagery, but come close to outdoing their previous horrors with Scourged Ghoul Undead’s depiction of a zombie child revisiting his mother (with ‘liquid brains oozing from his nose’) to set about ‘grunting, moaning, groaning and gnawing off her face’. Hearteningly, beneath their compositional elegance, Carach Angren are still some of metal’s sickest puppies.