So ends this tale of fates aligned. A prophecy of war entwined into bloody knots that won’t unwind. This ominous recording is all that’s left behind.
By Michal Bajer.
When examining the essence of horror, distilled from the purest poisons and fears of man, one is left with a damning portrait. Our fear of death, torture and the unknown set up an intricate web of terror, with each thread stitched into one critical pinnacle. Like the Beast, horror takes many forms. A strip of celluloid capturing a shadow on the wall, a book with writings on unfathomable cosmic horrors. What about music? Specifically, metal music?
Upon discovering the unique symphonic black metal of Carach Angren a few years back, one is reminded of a ghost tale, told around a campfire during a foggy night by a very enthusiastic camp counselor. The sinister trio’s goal? To create musical compositions of a melodic, melancholic and disturbing manner… as well as lyrics laced with phantoms, dark humor and the macabre. This Dutch group formed in 2003, and, hailing from Limburg, released their 3rd album, Where the Corpses Sink Forever in 2012 to noted critical and peer reception. With every album release, a new theme and ghostly subject matter is chosen to properly set the mood and atmosphere. In the past, we dealt with haunted woods, the Flying Dutchman and the infamous Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. This opus deals with new tales set during various war-torn epochs.
Our tale begins as an opening narration details a soldier, ordered to execute 7 prisoners chained to 7 stakes. However, it seems his bullets cannot reach them, and, one by one, they take the form of various nightmarish visions and torment him in a never ending concoction of murder, suicide, genocide and echoes from the past. The listener is taken from tales of a cowardly soldier in Vietnam, blamed for not killing a friend in his platoon, to a suicidal German who gets his just desserts in a grisly manner. Add into the mix a bloodthirsty general hunched over a map from Napoleonic times, a violinist who knowingly plays his own funerary dirge, and a surgeon who has grown accustomed to the taste of human flesh, and there you have it – little horror stories ripe in description and tension. The lyrics, crafted by frontman, Seregor, often use alliteration and staccato rhythms to help accentuate the appropriate moments of tension. No far-out metaphors here, we are given the sharp end of the tongue, shattering the bayonet.
The composer, Ardek, construes various tunes and musical passages fit for a motion picture. From sweeping, dynamic excerpts to sorrowful, weeping tunes of anguish, a cornucopia of symphonic sinistral hymns are present in a very pleasing, yet often unsettling manner. The songs are mainly built around these compositions, but this doesn’t mean Seregor’s guitar playing takes a back seat. Often adding an appropriate amount of metal venom and rhythm, the riffs are punishingly lethal, and the solos harmonious; twisting, screeching and chugging along to a glorious accompaniment. This is all wonderfully accentuated by drummer Namtar‘s militaristic style of playing, which adds an extra taste of war to our album, especially with the song “Spectral Infantry Battalions”, which beats itself into your skull with its simplistic (but in no ways simple!) march. Produced by Patrick Damiani, the album plays out especially well in one full sitting, preferably in a dimmed room during the witching hour of night. Every piece is a part of a bigger structure, every shot and curse a step towards eternal damnation; this is an album that will certainly linger in many a mind even after the tale has ended….
I was fortunate enough to conduct a séance with Ardek, composer for Carach Angren as well as talented solo artist. Our ethereal transcript is as follows:
Cat on the Wall: Greetings Ardek, thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Could you enlighten our new and unwary readers a bit about your person and work?
Ardek: Greetings! My name is Clemens, a.k.a. Ardek, or the other way around! 😉 As a composer and keyboard/ piano player, I have been a part of Carach Angren since the very first beginning, together with Seregor and Namtar. With Carach Angren, we tried to start something new in the black metal scene, namely, a band that tells conceptual horror stories through epic, bombastic music. I have been a fan of soundtracks and (metal) music since my childhood. Composing and playing music is my greatest passion. Besides Carach Angren, I compose music for several other projects in different musical styles. Think of music for short films and commercials, for example. When you follow me on Facebook or take a look at my website, you will see that my work is pretty diverse nowadays, although my specialty remains epic orchestral music. Carach Angren, however, is my main thing. We try to make the best music possible and to offer our fans something extraordinary every time we release a new album!
COTW: Your 3rd album, Where the Corpses Sink Forever, has gained enormous critical acclaim and fan appreciation for its grim, theatrical presentation and melodic, ghastly melodies. The subject and theme: war. What compelled you to tackle such a concept this time around?
Ardek: After the release of “Death Came through a Phantom Ship”, we felt we wanted to take the next step in storytelling. Seregor, who is responsible for coming up with all these brilliant stories, felt this way especially. We wanted to tell our own story this time, without remaking an existing legend. The war theme had been with us for some time, and, for us, it felt like a real challenge, especially because the war theme has been used in metal so often in the past. It was really great to adapt that theme to our own Carach Angren style. Also, we wanted to present the individual suffering that happens during a war without losing the bigger setting, where the war takes place. Describing the violence brought upon people on a bigger scale has been done before, but to zoom in to individual stories…that was something new to us.
COTW: To say you stand out in a crowd (in a positive manner of course!) is an understatement, even amongst the scope of black metal. Why have you specifically selected ghost stories and hauntings as a theme for Carach Angren?
Ardek: This sort of happened naturally, I think. When we started the band around 2003/2004, we shared this appreciation and fascination for horror stories, especially ghost themed ones. That’s when we decided to start releasing CD’s based upon one single story. From that moment on, it grew and grew to what it is today. The horror/haunting theme is fascinating. People want to be scared, and to be amazed, and that enables us as artists to be as creative as possible.
COTW: When one hears your orchestral melodies, it is clear that an onslaught of emotion is present. From fear and terror to longing and melancholy, how do you tap into these ethereal feelings when you create? Does inspiration just come about or do you look for specific sources of illumination in composing?
Ardek: Thank you. Sometimes it just happens when I sit by the piano or play one of my keyboards with a particular sound on no particular day. But more often than not, I have to work on it. Work real hard. Although it is presented like that sometimes, creation is not something that just pops up. As an artist,- you need to really put in a lot of energy in the whole thing to make it work. Inspiration and creativity is an ongoing process that you have to feed. Then, once we have found the basic theme for the next album, I try to search for emotions in the story we are about to tell. This can take hours of thinking, walking around, calling each other, and talking about the subjects. Right now, as I’m typing this, I’m looking at my musical sketchbook. It is full of words, phrases, little drawings, musical ideas, etc. etc. Another important thing is that I allow myself to fail. There are days when nothing really happens. I sit down, play, and it is just nothing. But already for years now, I have had this basic confidence that it always will be like that. It needs to be like that, in order to get to the next level. And then, when this moment is there, when I actually find something, a new melody or theme – that is just amazing!
COTW: The producer on the album was once again Patrick Damiani, whom you have worked with a total of 3 times. Do you plan to continue your working relationship in the future? What aspects has he brought out of you in the studio?
Ardek: Yes, Patrick is an amazingly talented guy who has been with us since Lammendam. When we enter the studio, he has a fresh view on the things we’ve prepared and knows how to make it sound excellent. We always have a lot of fun together, and the work-flow is incredible. Same goes for our Greek violinist Nikos Mavridis, who was introduced to us by Patrick. He is an extraordinarily talented player, an honour to work with everytime!
COTW: Your band look goes hand in hand with your music: theatrical and eye-catching from the very first minute. Your iconic corpse-paint has started to appear on various websites, fan works and even memes! Can you tell us a bit about your look and can we expect more grand fashion statements like this in the future?
Ardek: Haha, indeed – it is everywhere these days, which is really great. This also is the result of all the incredible fans we have. I really admire them for their support and, overall, the amazing things they do. It really encourages us to go even crazier on the looks, haha! No, but seriously, we will of course develop this more and more with every new release – but we won’t force things. Somehow, I feel we have a natural growth with things: we just follow our intuition and keep working hard. So yes, you can expect the next level with a new release! And speaking of memes, recently we actually made a Carach Angren t-shirt design out of a meme! We appreciate fan-input and translate it into something to offer them. This is basically our way of saying: “We hear your screams!!!”
COTW: For a band that deals so heavily in horror, surely there must be a few films/books/video games that inspire you greatly. What are some of your favorite spine tinglers and chillers?
Ardek: It’s hard to point out one single film or game; there’s a lot of good things out there these days. Seregor watches a lot of movies. He knows everything about new and upcoming films – he has seen everything, haha! I like some Asian horror movies, think of Ju-on for example. This might be a bit disappointing to your readers, but I’m not really into watching a lot of movies, reading a lot of books, etc. I’m the creating type. I’d rather sit down and try to create something myself, or spend time practicing.
COTW: For each of your albums with Carach Angren, the themes and location seems to have increased with each work. We went from crypts and mansions to haunted woods, seas and battlefields. What is next, a world of ghosts?
Ardek: I never thought of it that way, but indeed you could say that! On the other hand, like I said before, we also zoomed in more, into individual suffering … during war, for example. We really enjoy creating these musical horror stories. For the upcoming album, we’ve been talking and talking for days. I ‘m pretty sure people won’t have even the slightest clue about the horrors we’ll reveal on our next album!
COTW: You have composed a variety of music, not only for Carach Angren – Your bandcamp page features some stunning, rousing compositions that would not seem out of place in a big-budget fantasy film! Can you tell us a bit about these tracks, such as An Adventure Begins or Crowning of the King?
Ardek: Thanks… again! I like to write music, and I do it all the time. When it’s not for Carach, it’s for other projects. Some of the tracks on my Bandcamp are actually created for a US based trailer-music library, so it might get placed in film trailers some day! So yeah, epic orchestral film music is something that influences me, and I have been studying it more and more over the past few years in order to get into it. I can write for a full orchestra by now – it would be amazing to have that opportunity for Carach soon.
COTW: You have also composed music for film shorts such as Her Gift. The music is contemplative, sorrowful at first until it moves into a sweeping symphony of artistic passion and creativity. Are you planning to move into composing for feature length films?
Ardek: Thanks for all the compliments, I really appreciate it! Yes, composing for feature films would be great, and I am actually aiming to do that. Composing for short films is a good first step, and I’ll continue doing that, too! I am open for all kinds of projects, hence why I have been doing different things lately. Let’s see what 2014 will bring!
COTW: Ardek, thank you so much for finding the time and agreeing to this interview. Among composing new material and teaching students, we can imagine what a hectic schedule you have. We eagerly await what new melodies shall emerge from the crypt and we wish you all the best in the future!
Ardek: Thanks a lot for this great interview. See you on the road soon!
Ardek’s Aforementioned Bandcamp
And the Social Networks…