ALBUM REVIEW | CARACH ANGREN – Franckensteina Strataemontanus

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.)

Carach Angran. Photo by HEILEMANIA

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 embrace

From “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.

Johann Conrad Dippel

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.

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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.

ALBUM REVIEW | NIN – Ghosts I-IV

Since its release in 2008, this album has been my go-to soundtrack for when I am writing. Ghosts I-IV is a four-volume, 36 track, two hour sensory experience of varying instrumentals, aptly described by Trent Reznor as “a soundtrack for daydreams.” Some tracks are beautifully melodic with soft piano or lightly plucking bass or banjo, while others are hard-driven and filled with the industrial static noise that Nine Inch Nails fans love. Those familiar with The Fragile and Still, two of the album’s predecessors, will find similar textures here. Actually, many tracks will be reminiscent of past NIN songs that the astute fan will recognize, and the entire journey seems something of a recap of NIN over its nearly twenty-year life up to that point. However, it offers fresh and unexpected turns as well, and the devout listener will easily remain engaged. In some ways the album thematically works as a continuation of Year Zero, the band’s previous release, particularly if one considers the sounds to be the consequences of that album’s last track, “Zero Sum.” That song suggests a catastrophic end, perhaps even human annihilation, and the title of Ghosts could suggest the aftermath, and may account for there being no lyrics (for there are no people). Regardless, the album stands strongly on its own.

Unlike the instrumentals in The Fragile or in Still, Trent Reznor and company do not dwell on any one melody or rift for very long, and seem at times quick to move onto the next segue for a new texture. Reznor is well-known for placing creative restrictions on himself to produce music in a new way, and I would not be surprised if this were related to another restriction. The exception to this is Ghosts IV, my personal favorite, in which the music is allowed to meander and explore more varying avenues on a continuous theme. Overall, the entire album is a mature and calculated work that still retains a sense of creative spontaneity.

And like any good ghost, the album has experienced an interesting afterlife. It was the first NIN release after their departure from Interscope Records. After receiving critical praise it garnered two Grammy nominations, a first for music released under a Creative Commons license. More oddly, “34 Ghosts IV” was sampled for a beat and then used in the 2018 Lil Nas X earworm “Old Town Road.” For legal reasons, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were given writing credits. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and even earned both men a Country Music Association Awards nomination for Musical Event of the Year. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, NIN released two follow-up installments, Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts, free to download on their website.

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