Lightnings in the night sky. A mad laugh. I'ts alive ! We all know the story. CARACH ANGREN comes back to tell it in its own way, summoning the alchemist Joann Conrad Dippel and his hords of undead in Franckensteina Strataemontanus (preorder). We had a little chat by e-mail about monsters and some other gloomy stuff with Ardek, main composer of the band.
Hi Ardek ! Before everything else, how are you ? I hope the current situation hasn't been
a problem for you, your personal life or your music, even if the album was delayed...
Hi, I’m doing great thank you. Well the current situation affects everyone so in that sense we all somehow share the consequences of the pandemic. A lot of bands had to cancel tours and yes we had to postpone the album a little bit because of manufacturing delays. We are glad however that we can still move forward and release the album because we are extremely excited about it!
Franckensteina Strataemontanus tells us the story of Joann Conrad Dippel. How did you come to this choice?
Both Seregor and I had been thinking about the subject of Frankenstein for a while but never really
decided on a good approach of the story for CARACH ANGREN. Then in december 2017 I was starting to work on some new music and one night I had a nightmare. In the dream I was floating throughout an old house that seemed to be from the classical era. It had all kinds of ornaments and decorations. I heard haunting dissonant piano tones, there was water flowing and suddenly I was pulled towards a painting. The painting showed the face of an angry old man. Then I woke up. I made a drawing of the face I saw and tried to play the piano tones I heard. Then I basically forgot about it. In the months to come I decided to read the original Frankenstein novel by Mary Shelley and I was blown away by it. The depth, detail and emotional journey portrayed really caught me off guard. So I decided to do more research and stumbled upon a theory that indicates that Mary Shelley supposedly was inspired by a man named Johan Conrad Dippel. An alchemist that lived in Germany, at castle Frankenstein. He was very notorious for doing experiments on cadavers and also had critical religious views. That’s why he had to flee to different countries several times. In my research I stumbled upon a painting of Dippel and it looked a lot like the man I saw in my dream. That’s when I personally got motivated. I sort of needed that personal connection. I did more research by reading books, visiting medical museums and so forth. Seregor was a big fan of the original Frankenstein movie because he saw it when he was just a kid. So from that moment on we started experimenting and gradually built the album into what it is now.
Your music is always very narrative. What happens in your version of the story ?
The story consists of both (historical) facts and fiction. The main idea is that Dippel wanted to live
forever and in his quest he tried to create an elixir to realise this. The album starts with the fictional
story of a young boy playing in the woods near Darmstadt. This would have happened in the 1980’s
in my mind. The boy turns ill after leaving the forest and soon after he dies and his parents bury him. He then comes back from the grave and eats his family. This is the intro and first track. So it is an introduction, much like we did on Death came through a Phantom Ship. In the following tracks you get an introduction into the inner world of Dippel, his experiments and lab work. (Franckensteina Strataemontanus & The Necromancer). In Sewn for Solitude we zoom into the inner world of one of Dippel’s creations, namely a monster that has to hide in the forest. This raises the question of who is responsible for suffering. The monster, its creator or both? In the track Operation Compass we jump to WW II, North Africa to be precise. I found out that Dippel invented an oil, namely "bone oil". It is made of animal bones and smells really bad. The British forces were instructed to use this oil to poison the water wells in case of a retreat during the battle. I found this information in official government documents so this is factual information. I was fascinated by it because it meant that something that Dippel created centuries ago was basically almost used as a chemical weapon. In the song we take the idea much further and go completely over-the-top by implicating the wells were poisoned and allowed Dippel’s demonic forces to come through and resurrect fallen soldiers into a zombie extravaganza. After this we move on to Monster. A track that raises the question of what a monster truly is. Basically an open question for the listener to think about. Der Vampir von Nürnberg was heavily investigated by Seregor and tells the story of Kuno Hofman who was convicted for killing two people some decades ago. He was also accused of having sex with dead bodies and drinking their blood. We connected his story to Dippel by saying he got inspired by Dippel’s writings. Then we return to Dippel’s lab and experiments. He succeeds in creating the elixir of life, drinks it and becomes immortal. There is only one problem, his body still decays, yet his soul lives forever but is bound to his rotten flesh. His only way to escape is to infest a fresh body. And so we tie the last song to the opening song. Dippel infested the young boy, that’s why he died and came back from the grave. So the opening tracks are actually the last ones in the story and form an open end.
There's a funny thing about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and all those "mad scientists" stories that came after it : whoever defies his divine creator can't stay unpunished. There's this weird kind of morality in gruesome stories that I always found surprising (you know, like Jason Voorhees killing teenagers who fornicate and smoke week). How does it end for Dippel in your album ?
Yes exactly, the basic morality of the story keeps coming back over and over. One of my personal
favourites is Jurassic Park, it’s basically the same idea applied to dinosaurs and genetics. What is so
interesting is that the idea of creating something is very appealing, almost like creating art but then
again there is always this question of morality. Are you responsible for your creation and to what
extent? You could even apply this to having kids of your own, haha! In our story it first ends bad for Dippel as he lives forever thanks to his elixir (his creation) but his flesh still rots away. Then his soul infests a young boy, like a parasite and continues to live on. So the bad guy wins in our story. There is also a deeper meaning to it that fascinates me. If you think about ghosts, the general view is to think of an apparition, a mist or some kind of form. Yet, you could also think of it in a completely different way. When I studied Dippel the interesting thing is that somehow he kept turning up throughout history. He basically came through Mary Shelley in writing her novel, his oil was used much later in World War II. He invented a pigment, a color (Prussian Blue) that is still used. An now, maybe, he reaches out to the world once more through our album! I like that idea. Survival through story telling or creation. Maybe that is what a ghost really is.
Let's talk a bit about monsters. In a lot of stories like Frankenstein and its derivatives, we see a monster taking its revenge against society. In some way, it shows our guilt for casting them away in the first place because that's why turns them into "real" monsters. Would you say that you feel sympathy for Dippel?
Personally I feel mixed. In one way I feel admiration because he tries to create something from his
wildest imagination, namely eternal life. He also in his time started to criticise religious believes and
advocated a more personal interpretation of faith. Something we are now more used to. This takes
courage and certainly not everyone would try to do that. On the other hand, when I tried to read his
writings I got the feeling that there was also a kind of narcissistic tone in his work. This makes
perfectly sense, one has to probably find himself extremely important to want to live on after
anyone else. This more darker side of his personality shines through some other historical rumours about his life. He always had money problems, apparently killed someone and constantly had to flee.
He also tried to buy Castle Frankenstein by selling his elixir and so forth. So let’s say I was highly
fascinated by his life haha.
I must admit that I really enjoyed the whole album, there's a lot of novelty and unexpected songs in it, like Monster and its slow pace that reminds the Frankenstein monster, or Franckensteina Strataemontanus. I have the feeling that you're going even further into orchestral, theatrical and experimental things. Do you think that you might loose some fans ?
Thank you. Well, we see our band as a dynamic entity so this is the next step we took. We developed as people and musicians and most importantly had enormous fun working on this album. This is the core and the reason why we started all of this in the first place. Michael Jackson had this great quote. I interpreted his quote like “You have to get out of the way and let music create itself”. This is basically the curse of the artist. Because you want to create but you can’t force it. This means putting in the work, focussing but don’t try to have expectations. It’s very easy to say this but it can be frustrating because some days nothing really happens, haha! What I am trying to say by all this is that writing an album, at least for us, is something that takes a lot of time and energy. Stepping away from it, going back into it. I always feels it tests everything in my personality. When I make a great melody I feel amazing but the reality often is that I have no idea where it came from. So that is humbling. It’s easy to go out and say “I did this and that” and for the outside world that is how it works but creation and creativity comes from a place much deeper it seems. So in the end it is a journey and an album is the end result, the photography of the process. Will people like it?
Hopefully! If they don’t like it, that is fine too. The only thing I try to do in conversations like this is to give some insight into how all of it came together. With every album you will probably gain fans and lose some others. That is great, it’s dynamic, you can’t cater for everyone all the time. Also, so much is defined by the moment in your life when you encounter an album. I still stick to albums I listened to when I was sixteen or seventeen years old. Because they appeared in a time where I was exploring the world as a young adult. Maybe if I would have encountered them now they would not impress me at all. The older we grow the more challenging it becomes to keep an open mind.
You will probably hate me for saying that, but this is an e-mail so... You can't reach me ! When I listen to CARACH ANGREN, I really have this strange feeling that it could be a very twisted Disney Movie, or a Broadway musical. Everything is so grandiloquent. What do you think of that ?
E-mail bomb sent. No just kidding haha! I take it as a compliment because there is great art and
effort to be found in the examples you give. We probably approach our music the same as a movie
or musical. We build around a story so it makes perfect sense. But please pick the darkest Disney
movie for comparison if possible. Maybe we should make a Disney movie so that it will never be the
same again haha!
I also have the feeling that Seregor is "acting" more and more when he sings, it became really obvious on Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten. Would you say that working with his is like directing an actor ?
Yes, I often said this myself. It is like that exactly. Let me tell you that he is the greatest actor ever. In everything he does regarding art he acts and it is brilliant. An honour to have worked together for all those years. When we were recording the vocals for this album we often had goosebumps listeningback takes, haha... There is this part on Der Vampir von Nürnberg where he speaks German and makes a choking sound. We actually recorded that here several times, played it back loud and it was completely crazy. On stage he just becomes the character that is Seregor and as Seregor he continuously cycles between all angles of a story. So he basically is all the actors in the story at once.
The violins in the album are, once again, amazing. Isn't it frustrating to compose orchestral music but not working mostly with samples ?
Thank you. I’m very fortunate to have Nikos Mavridis play the solo violins parts I compose. He is a
terrific player and gives the parts real magic. Actually there is a great side of working with samples
because I get to manipulate every single note almost exactly the way I want it. The advantage is that I can change things up to the last minute in my score. Of course to have the whole thing played by a real orchestra would be superior but it would be a completely different approach. There are albums out there that sound great but some others don’t sound great at all. If for example you have a very good orchestra but a bad recording engineer the result could be not so good. Or you have the best recording setting but not the best orchestra. So in order to execute this properly everything needs to be perfect. If there is one weak link then this is going to be the plateau. Let’s see what the future brings but for now I’m happy the way we work with this. On this album there is also a lot of synthesizer, mechanical effects and so forth. I heavily manipulated violins beyond recognition for example on the title track. This is also fun to do and again I have full control over what happens all the time.
On the same line, do you ever feel limitations not to have more people on stage when you play
Not really. We did some shows in the past with Nikos live, this was amazing. At the same time, the
more people live, the more of a challenge it becomes sonically.
There's a lot of dead people coming back to life in your album. And there is this green Elixir of Death that comes with the limited edition of the album. All this reminds a lot of Re-Animator and the sad passing of Stuart Gordon. Am I right ? Wouldn't that be amazing to reanimate him ?
That’s cool, I had not made that connection but I love the Masters of Horror series a lot. Yes it would be great but then again, his legacy lives on.
You work a lot on special editions. There was this funny easter egg on your previous album, when you end by asking "Did you open the box ?" in Three Times Thunder Strikes, which frees Charlie. Is there anything similar with Franckensteina Strataemontanus that you could share with us ?
Maybe, go and find out haha! No but indeed we like to sort of make things four dimensional
whenever we can. The elixir you mentioned is an extension of the story although more obvious.
Another weird coincidence is that we put a mask in the special edition digipack but this idea
came from the record label before the pandemic. Sometimes these things line up in strange
Before labeling it "black metal", I would say that your music in very theatrical, and even
cinematographic. Are there any movies or soundtrack that inspired you ? What kind of horror do you prefer ? Personally, I couldn't choose between the gore madness of the 80's and the gothic ones of the late 50's / 60's.
Thanks. I think black metal was and maybe is our greatest influence but also death metal, industrial
metal and of course soundtracks and classical music. I’m heavily inspired by some works of John
Williams (for example War of the Worlds). But also Christopher Young (The Grudge, Hellraiser). I
really like the 80s and especially everything before CGI. For me the highest point of integrating CGI
into movies was in Jurassic Park. After that the balance was gone for me. In that movie, the CGI was
constantly adding something that was absolutely missing to make the scenes believable. Don’t get
me wrong, nowadays filmmakers do incredible, amazing things, absolutely beautiful but for some
reason I always experience distance with computer generated images. Or maybes this is just me
complaining and begin stuck in my dino child phase haha! I also really like Hitchcock. Birds is
amazing. The way the movie starts, the dialogues, it is pure art to me. In recent years some really
good horror movies have been made as well. I really liked Get Out and Dr Sleep. I was surprised
by both of them, I didn’t see it coming. Dr. Sleep is also an example of using CGI in a way that it
doesn’t get noticed. It doesnt distract. The scene where Rebecca Ferguson is floating through the
night sky was incredible.
I know you're supposed to be promoting your new album, but has being locked down gave you some time to work on new things ?
Yes, I’m always trying to come up with new music so in that sense nothing has changed for me
personally. It’s just that everyone else is at home too now !
Thank you very much ! Would you like to add or share anything else ?
Thanks for the great questions.
© Photo Stefan Heilemann