The Dutch act Carach Angren, often categorized as symphonic black metal, prefers to describe itself as horror metal. The latter description more fittingly describes their latest release, Franckensteina Strataemontanus. The concept album tackles Mary Shelley’s classic story in refreshing ways, mixing black metal sensibilities with emotional strings and choruses, as well as with punching moments of industrial flair. Vocalist Dennis “Seregor” Droomers varies his approach between death metal growls, black metal screeches, and smatterings of clean vocals. His pronunciations are nevertheless clear and articulate and worthy of the strong lyrical content, and they help to create a cinematic sense of story. Keyboardist Clemens “Ardek” Wijers effectively orchestrates a marriage of the harsh and the beautiful, appropriate for an album that tackles the Gothic Romanticism of Shelley’s original tale. (Unfortunately, the drummer Ivo “Namtar” Wijers left the group before the release of the album.)
Sonically dense, the album operates as a horror opera that drags the listener down different facets of the Frankenstein mythos as it has been told over the centuries: the desire to conquer death and to vanquish grief, the corrupting influence of power, the failure of the creator to take responsibility for his creation, and the questions regarding what a monster is and what makes them monstrous.
From the womb to the tomb and back again
Once a son of light now a creature in the night
Grunting, moaning, groaning and gnawing off her face
Eaten alive in her dear son’s embraceFrom “Scourged Ghoul Undead”
They also incorporate historical elements from the life of Johann Conrad Dippel (1673-1734), a German physician, alchemist and occultist. Believed by some to be an inspiration for Shelley’s story, Dippel was born at Castle Frankenstein and the album’s title comes from his name’s addendum. Dippel experimented widely and his reputation for grim experiments on human cadavers spread over the time, though perhaps unjustifiably. He did manage to invent “Dippel’s oil,” an ichor made by distilling animal bones that was claimed to be the ever-elusive “elixir of life.” Used for a while as an insect repellent, its use eventually fell out of favor. However, in the Second World War it was employed during the desert campaign to make wells impotable — because it was not lethal, it was thought to be an acceptable form of chemical warfare. References to Dippel’s oil and to the desert campaign are found within the tracks.
The album is not a straight narrative, though the last track does seem to serve as a prologue to the first, hence creating a cyclical listening experience. The album is more like a series of vignettes related to the common theme of Frankenstein, to macabre attempts to prolong life (such as in the song “Der Vampir Von Nürnberg” about the necrophiliac and murderer, Kuno Hofmann), and to ideas of monstrosity. Nevertheless, nods to both Shelley’s novel and to some cinematic versions of the Frankenstein story are present. An example of the latter can be heard in the title track, in which Seregor declaratively sings, “Oh, in the name of God, now I know how it feels to be God!” These are in fact the infamous lines uttered by Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) in James Whale’s 1931 classic that were once censored for being considered too blasphemous.
The perfume of death is my sweetest cologne.From “Franckensteina Strataemontanus”
Carach Angren succeeds in crafting a horror experience that is multilayered both musically and thematically. Franckensteina Strataemontanus serves as a grim love letter to Mary Shelley’s creation that refuses to walk the well-worn path of so many adaptations. Horror metal, indeed.
If you would like to deeper into the Frankenstein story and its author, see my article, A More Horrid Contrast: Mary Shelley and Her Monster, on The Revenant Review.