Horror films craft a sense of anticipation, tension and fear that is often relentless, and I might argue that brief moments of hope and light bring even more depth and darkness to these movies. Carach Angren take such an approach in their compositional style on Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten. The Dutch symphonic black metal band’s fifth album is a departure from their previous record, with a renewed emphasis on orchestral sections, narrative focus and emotional dynamics. Where 2015’s This Is No Fairytale was a disturbingly dark take on ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and domestic violence, the new album crafts a concept that touches on historical events and the paranormal.
As Carach Angren records typically do, Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten opens with an orchestral introduction, starkly titled “Opening”. Pianist and composer Ardek builds a sense of expectancy here that, much like the record to follow, flits between brief uplifting sections and dark, haunting themes. Though perhaps unnecessarily long and repetitive, the intro is nonetheless significant in its foreshadowing. Single “Charlie” builds from the tone of the interlude, detailing a harrowing experience with an Ouija board. It’s the only one of the nine tracks on here that contains clean vocals, monotonously delivering ‘Charlie/Wants to kill me’. Although I typically enjoy singing in metal and the section presents a hook to the track, I was somewhat underwhelmed by its lack of energy and character.
The choice for singles taken from this record seems somewhat counter-intuitive; “Charlie” was a somewhat uninspired start to the album, and “Song For The Dead”, though an entrancing track, lacks an energy that would build excitement for the record. It is not to say, however, that there are no strong tracks to be found. “Charles Francis Coughlan” is one of the more uplifting moments on the album, and all the more distinct for it. A melodeath-esque (think of Children of Bodom without shredding) melodic section at the five minute mark contrasts the chaotic strings throughout the song, with the music perfectly matching the arc of the story told in the track. It may be a little odd to hear lyrics like ‘talented, handsome and eccentric’ delivered in guitarist/vocalist Seregor’s distinct growl, but the somewhat goofy theatricality is par for the course. The epic, melodic and almost reverent closing of the song seems to provide a peaceful repose that the song’s namesake never received.
The closing half of Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten sounds stronger and more inspired than the opening half. “In De Naam Van De Duivel” opens with hard-hitting, minimalistic riffs, but later flows into one of the most beautiful, lush orchestral moments on the record. “The Possession Process” is certainly one of the more blackened songs on the record, but the hooky, swinging riff during the chorus really drives home the fun and furious nature of the track. “Three Times Thunder Strikes” finishes Carach Angren’s fifth outing with thrashing guitar and screeching strings.
Carach Angren are a distinct act, merging the self-serious genre of black metal with theatricality, spoken word parts and grandiose narratives; as such, a certain amount of charming cheesiness can be expected on Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten. And although this might turn off some listeners, there is a great deal of diversity, dynamics and detail present on the record for those willing to move past the melodrama and dive into the music. The album drags a bit in the beginning, but it builds to an epic final third movement that is certainly worth the anticipation.
Notable Tracks: “Charles Francis Coghlan”; “In De Naam Van De Duivel”
FFO: late Emperor, Into Infernus