"the water... was real and so cold that we had to stop in between shots to try and warm up... I remember at some point I was like 'OK I'm going to pass out'" (on the 'Charles Francis Coghlan' music video)
In truth the Dutch Metal scene is as complex as it's train network - remember that a 'Sprinter' train service is slower than 'InterCity' and oh that most trains are double decker, the quiet zone at the top and the trains as quiet as Black Metal... anyway moving on from the differences in train services and onto one of the most prominent metal exports in Carach Angren, who are gearing up to release their latest offering 'Franckensteina Strataemontanus' on 26th June 2020.
But what is it exactly that makes this band run along smoothly, is it their inept ability to conjure up songs that are designed to make you sweat profusely or make you lose sleep at the rate of a thunderstorm's lightning strike? Whatever it is, it works and their own 'Horror Metal' style is not one for the faint hearted as Ardek explained to GMA.
We spoke to him about how Carach Angren got to where they are now, the forthcoming album (guts, bones, the lot), the eloquency behind the outfits and the torture the band endured in filming 'Charles Francis Coghlin'.... prepare for some serious goosebumps reading this.
Carach Angren has been going 17 years or so, what is it that has kept the line-up so strong?
"It always has been very natural, I remember when I started I played in a couple of bands and I started to write the composing part which was more than anything else, so with other bands I had to compromise of which sometimes would lead to really great stuff. But with Carach Angren I had my place as a main composer where I could make up compositions and Seregor, is really good at the guitar when it comes to the melodies and coming up with his act on stage; visuals, lyrics, but my brother was good with rhythm so all these things together were a natural combination; like a machine without discussion of who's doing what.
This developed and I remember when we made the first release it would be cool to make one story and build everything around that - this stuck with us whenever we did research for a concept album. Unfortunately he (my brother) decided to leave this year, it's sad but I always say you have to like what you do, especially when it comes to music."
Focusing on the lyrics, were these all researched or were some based on stories you heard / learned over time?
"It differs per album I know that, for example "Lammendam" is a story that actually took place near Seregor's place where he lives in Schinveld, it's a very small town and the legend was really unknown, but it always has fascinated him, he even wrote one song about it in previous bands. So when we got the opportunity to sign with a record label in 2007 (Maddening Media), the idea of a full length came up immediately and this story was right in front of us; that's why we picked that one.
After that I read about the story of Van Der Decken (Death Came Through A Phantom Ship) which came through on a completely different album, it felt completely liberating to do something different and so with all of our albums they connect with us through maybe a movie, or a book or an idea and that's the cool thing about our band - we can do whatever we want within the ghosts or horror genre, story-telling of course and sure it's not easy, because you cannot just pick something random and do it, it has to connect with you and focus upon something inside ourselves as a band.
This echoes with the new album 'Franckensteina Strataemontanus' whereby Frankenstein has been done so many times in so many different ways, it's so popular that for me it wasn't the case of 'lets do an album about Frankenstein', you know? That's not going to cut it. But through a really great way, I found a connection to the story via a nightmare where I was floating in a house and I heard distant piano sounds so I walked towards what seemed to be a portrait of an old-looking man, he was really angry (laughs) and then I woke up and I wrote that down, I was fascinated by this dream; I even made a drawing of the face that I saw and basically ignored it, until later when when I started to read about Frankenstein and was fascinated by it.
So much so I researched it and came up with this theory that Mary Shelley originally was inspired by Johann Conrad Dippel, so I googled this guy and a portrait showed up in google images of him and he looked exactly the guy I dreamt of (haha). So that for me and Seregor became a lead, you need a lead that pulls you instead of pushing yourself, this was something interesting what we had - no one knew who Johann Conrad Dippel was, so we started making up stories connected with Frankenstein. This is usually how it happens with every album, but I have to say every album becomes a bigger challenge as you've already done so much and it's easy to go in the same direction, so I like a challenge (haha)."
Arguably with Carach Angren you've created your own sound in 'Horror Metal', do you hope that other bands will follow the same style?
"That's a good question, I don't know but I see sometimes people are inspired by us and do covers, stuff like that which is really cool. The reason we choose 'Horror Metal' is because we didn't feel completely good with the 'Symphonic Black Metal' genre because especially to me, that genre has always felt like a big container of different kinds of things and bands. I felt we do several different things so 'Horror Metal' isn't really a genre in that sense, but if you have to give it a name then it's 'Horror Metal', but yeah we were inspired by bands and so we hope we inspire other bands and people, be it music, art, paintings, photography - there was no ultimate cause or effect, we invent all the time - art in that sense."
Arguably bands say their next / latest album is their best or favourite, out of all of Carach Angren's albums, which is your favourite?
"It's cliche but it's the upcoming one (haha) because it feels closest to your personal development as a musician, because we always give everything when we write. When I was working with the music for 'Lammendam' I was a different person, I was like 23 years old and now I'm 36. I'm proud of every album and I thing that we've really done everything we could possibly do at that point, but of course when you listen back you will always do things differently; but that would be wise things because probably you would f*ck up and I think that every album has it's charm. "Death Came Through A Phantom Ship" was nautical, it has an adventurous tone to it and so the production was more film-score like, "This Is No Fairytale" is much more in your face-like, complex and raw but they're super different in that sense.
But yeah what makes me proud of the new one is that basically, we took almost like an extra year to work on it, because usually it's a two year cycle - play play play, writing an album, releasing it and now I felt like this is too soon, it would not be fair to hurry an album... I felt like I need that extra time as sometimes you feel that you've lost that perspective, sometimes you need time away from it to gain new ideas."
Given that extra year, did that help you in researching ideas for the song titles too? How was the process?
"It was a really in-depth process with what I did in 2018 and 2017, I started reading the book and other gothic novels and got fascinated by Frankenstein, the funny thing is in 2018 it was exactly 200 years ago that Mary Shelley wrote the book, so I found it to be my investigation. I went to a museum called Boerhaave Museum in Leiden, it's like a science museum and they had an exhibition about Frankenstein in an historical context; it was written in about Mary Shelley and also about the future of robotics, basically a projection of Frankenstein in this day of age and there was also a little exhibition of a woman called Ana Maria Gomez Lopez, she's a scientist but also a performing artist and she was planning an art performance of taking an organ out of her own body and bury it.
This fascinated me so I wrote down her name and contacted her, had an interview with her discussing all these kinds of things and I got on a really deep trail; I started investigating laboratory experiments where they decapitated mice to find out brain functioning in the moment after death and I definitely found out that the separation between death and life is something that is mostly cultural, medically we say that the moment of death is when the heart stops beating and yet we see some cells in organ systems multiply after death; that was kind of fascinating that there's no clear line and that inspired me in the song-writing process in that I started writing some ideas, some fictional ideas - some ended up on the album like 'Operation Compass' and it was in that time that we slowly started gathering musical ideas and these ideas, but I never at the time had an idea of what this could become."
Are you surprised about how global metal has become and seeing bands from the likes of Syria, Botswana, Indonesia emerge?
"I think that's really great that we are as a world, since the internet and everything going to more globalisation, it has some worrying sides maybe, but there is a very good side and music... if you see how accessible music is these days from bands in difficult regions, who are outreaching to global audiences, it's really great. So I'm excited about that and it's a fantastic thing."
The new album 'Franckensteina Strataemontanus' is to be released on black and glow-in-the-dark vinyl, was this your idea or Season of Mist's idea?
"We worked together on these things and we will have a silver one on our web store, we also have a limited edition vinyl where we hand make little bottles of oil and I always try to come up with ideas to give the release something special, almost a four-dimension like we did with the last album - pitch black box, so we really try that but it's like an exploration because everything is possible, but not everything is a good idea, I think I have very good ideas but the label is like some of these aren't going to work commercially - we always have to find some kind of balance, but I am very happy what we have come up with altogether. By coming up with a great album it enables teams around us to come up with great ideas to match it - such as the artwork which is done by Stefan Heilemann, he's a brilliant guy and artist - I emailed him the entire concept story and before we even started recording he came up with this artwork."
Some people on YouTube have commented that Carach Angren should do their own horror movie, or music should be included in one, what are your thoughts on this?
"Well the cool thing is that it already happened, there was a Canadian horror film called "Pyewacket" and they licenced one of our tracks 'There's No Place Like Home' and it's in the movie, so that's really cool; there's also some key visuals from us in the movie, so that's something to definitely check out, so what you see is it's already happening. Some Dutch people ask us do you want to make your own movie and to be honest I really like what we do, I like to make sound for non-existent movies in our heads and to make a movie would be something completely different, so why not, but it's not something that we are trying to do."
On the topic of videography, how demanding was it to make the music video 'Charles Francis Coghlan'?
" (laughs) I want to forget about this, it was extremely demanding for everyone, we did it with Rick Jacops who is a film-maker from The Netherlands and a really great guy. But he is like us in his field, a perfectionist, it never ends with him nor us and basically we had to build everything ourselves; what you see there is built by the band, we did have some help from friends and family but besides that we did it over a period spanning 2 months. Literally the recordings you see we are in the water, that was actually real and was so cold that we had to stop in between the shots and try to warm up... I remember at some point I was like 'OK I'm going to pass out', like what are we doing here, we're crazy.
To give you an example we had these shots like all day and then in the afternoon I was going to the other scene, to bury a hole for the grave because we needed to put a coffin and water in there and was also recorded in May - the weather was really nice and we only had very little time to record because we had to record at night as it was outside, so we were literally recording from like midnight to like 5am, stop and sleep for the next couple of hours and then wake up because we had to rebuild the set - it was basically horrible, I was dead at the end from sleep deprivation and all the crap. But I mean we were very proud of the end result, I don't know if we would do it again though, looking back at it it was too extreme, like a movie with a couple of people."
It seems with each new album comes new on-stage outfits, what inspires you each time?
" (laughs), I could come up with a very elaborate story but a lot of things we do in the band happen naturally, I'll give you two examples like first we have a story in The Netherlands where we love to go to check out clothes... which we have done since the beginning as we go there, we check out what's there and for some reason there's always something really cool and during the latest years Seregor has been getting better at customising some of the clothes that we get, so his touch is definitely on there. What is really funny is that people always contact us asking where do we have it made, where do you get this stuff? The funny thing is just it's commercially available, but we know very well what we connect with.
I remember when Seregor and I once went to the store and there were these PVC / latex pants and we looked at each other and we were like 'I think this could be cool' but at the same time we said we wouldn't have done this four years ago, we would be like 'this is too much' and for some reason we tried them and felt like OK this is weird and not a Black Metal purist look, but it worked with what we were doing and that also made us move in different ways live... like almost Michael Jackson kind of moves. But it all happened in a natural way, another example is like last year we needed something to promote the headline tour - something for an instagram video.
I had no idea and was literally out of ideas and Seregor called me and said well come over and let's try something, so I came over to his and he had a couple of masks and was fooling around and also said he had this fake tongue, so I said yeah why don't you just cut it or something and so we were just goofing around and filming with my phone and it turned out to be really something strange. So I took it home and made it a little bit darker, adding sound effects and it turned into this gross kind of thing, I put it online and it went viral. I said why don't you do that live, everyday you cut your tongue on stage, OK so we ordered like 38 tongues (laughs) and we had ordered the wrong ones because they were too sticky and so had to order different ones - nowadays like the mouth piece crisis we had a tongue crisis."
Regarding the masks we see around the 'Lammendam' and 'Death Came Through A Phantom Ship' era, are they still being made?
"Yeah Seregor makes them and has his own web store, he sells them there and makes all kinds of masks - usually horror and that's like a little side business. He's extremely good at it and always comes up with new ideas in life and for the band as well sometimes, in the visual area he's very talented"
Given the COVID-19 situation, looking towards the back end of 2020, what plans do you have?
"We're working on touring plans for the Autumn, USA hopefully after that Europe, we already have Mexico's Metalfest confirmed so with the virus it creates a lot of uncertainty, but we have really great booking agents and management who would try to be on that; making plans which I am really happy about, because that was the initial plan, we are really lucky that the album is coming out. But some bands had tour plans which they've had to cancel which is really bad, but music is now a secondary problem and sits behind personal welfare, societal health, etc., but our tour plans are definitely being drafted right now and hopefully we can be a bit more precise when this is all over."
For those metalheads visiting Landgraaf, what sights / attractions could you recommend?
"This is actually a funny thing, Landgraaf is a town where we used to have rehearsals and our previous band, none of us actually live there. So somehow that name made it onto our Wikipedia page. But we are located in the province of Limburg. In general you have the town of Maastricht which is nice to visit, it's a nice town, that is something I would recommend."
Where there any ghost / horror stories you were told as a child?
"Well I always remember our father would tell us fairytales and stories, but I have a funny memory as a child, I was sitting in the bathtub and I called out to my mother that someone was under the water by my feet; I have a vague memory of that so it was a cool ghost story."
"Franckensteina Strataemontanus" is out 26th June 2020 via Season of Mist on CD, vinyl and tape.