Like an extravagant dessert, Carach Angren are back. These men from The Netherlands are never backward in coming forward and presenting their theatrical, horror-laden, over the top version of black metal. Here we go again with “Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten”.

A symphonic start sets the scene for the latest horror and grotesquery. Extravagant fury follows as the Ouija board spells out “Charlie”. To threats of death and the stench of decay, represented musically by nightmarish and dramatic extremity, it is concluded that “Charlie wants to kill me, Charlie’s not a friend”. The track closes with the creaking sounds of a haunted room. It’s interesting to note that Rammstein’s Till Lindemann and the multi-talented and creative Peter Tätgren (Pain, Hypocrisy, Bloodbath, Lock Up etc), who in fact mixes this album, each have expressed their approval of Carach Angren. Musically it’s the blackest of black metal with a lot of extravagance and theatre thrown in. Unusually, I look early on at the lyrics of a Carach Angren album to get an idea of the theme of the latest ghastly horror story. Charlie appears to be Charles Francis Coughlan, a 19th century actor, the subject of the fourth track, who dies on stage before his coffin is swept away in a storm. The ghost of Charles is possessed but is locked within his coffin until the Ouija game, when the devil’s pitch-black box is unlocked, unleashing death, vengeance and the invasion of the victim’s soul with evil. The role of the devil is outlined in “In de Naam van de Duivel”, in which through trickery a man slits his wife’s throat after thinking that she is attacking him. “Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten” comprises nine ghastly and graphically depicted episodes of horror and psychological infiltration. This is a world where “Fun and excitement turned into fear and disbelief”.

In a departure from the incessant fury of Carach Angren’s previous albums, the story of “Charles Francis Coughlan” is told almost funereally. A grim symphony and a whispering, deathly chorus accompany the tale. Rogue waves pound Charles’s corroded coffin, the box of death, “until it’s out of sight, until there’s no more light” – this last statement is made with emphasis so that we are in no doubt. The chorus has a swaying catchiness but with a subtle name change it becomes still more sinister and morbid: “Charles Francis Coffin, rising star, reaching far – in death”. This gruesome album of course spares no detail in telling us how far Charlie reaches to spread malevolence and death. “Song for the Dead” is just that, and oozes decay and emptiness. A rancid atmosphere replaces the urgent black metal, which I would associate more with previous Carach Angren albums. This musical atmosphere is in keeping with the theme. Suddenly, the atmosphere intensifies. Crashing, ghoulish sounds dominate the scene as the deathly presence of the devil enters. “In de Naam van de Duivel” is not just a tale, but a multi-coloured tableau of horror and harshness. Symphony meets metal. Piano meets strident guitar work. The drum pounds a deathly pace. Violence meets majesty. The vocalist whispers the ghastly tale. “Pitch Black Box” is military in its progress, Rammstein like even, but the deep and swirling symphonic element and detail of the story-telling add venom and mystery. “I thrust the skeletal key inside, Turn six times left, then three times right, Oh pitch black box, show me what you hide”, growls the narrator. It’s no mystery that there’s nothing nice inside. “The Possession Process” is less orderly, and more nasty. Ghostly sounds stand above the grisly résumé of the “process”, the outcome of which is summarised thus: “That which haunts me has taken control, Corrupted my senses and poisoned my soul”. The net result is a tortured mind and insanity. The catastrophe is captured in the frantic “Three Times Thunder Strikes”, as Charlie is literally out of the bag and chaos has struck. Harsh metal and strident symphony form an avant-garde and multi-layered piece, before it all ends in sombre and majestic fashion. The show is over but because that pitch black box was opened the suffering has only just begun …..

I found that compared to Carach Angren’s previous four albums of horrific tales, that there was less blood and thunder. The creepy and deathly delivery was more akin to each part of the ghastly tale. On songs like “Charles Francis Coughlan”, there was scope in the subject matter for storm and rage. I hesitate to say that Carach Angren’s music is any way repressed here, more controlled maybe, but in the bid to tell the tale and match the atmosphere symphonically, I thought there was a missing element. Normally it’s so extreme that there are moments where you have to laugh. That didn’t happen here for me. But equally this is Carach Angren, and “Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten” is typically flamboyant, extravagant, grisly, graphic, atmospheric and theatrical. And what’s not to like about that?

(8/10 Andrew Doherty)