Following Cradle of Filth’s golden age which began with the excellent ‘Principle of Evil Made Flesh’ and ended with the equally ambitious ‘Midian’ the band seemed paralysed by indecision. The mini-album ‘Bitter Suites to Succubi’ offered up a perplexing mixture of covers, new tunes and unnecessary re-recorded versions of old favourites while the follow up ‘Damnation and a Day’ was a bloated and largely irrelevant chapter in the band’s history. Sadly things would hardly improve for ‘Nymphetamine’, an album which displayed a similar lack of purpose before ‘Thornography’ saw the band slowly return to form.
Everything changed with 2008’s astonishingly good ‘Godspeed and the Devil’s Thunder’, an album which saw the band belt out the best tunes they’d written since ‘Midian’. Returning to high concept, the band played to their considerable strengths and with a decent story to back their musical depravity, the album had a strong focus which was irresistible despite the fact that the band left Roadrunner following the album’s release amidst a blaze of recrimination (long-time fans of the band were always sceptical of Britain’s premiere black metal allying themselves with the home of Nickelback – proof, as if any were needed, that Roadrunner are not exactly staffed by music fans unmoved by commercial concerns). Now safely in the arms of the excellent Peaceville records, Cradle of Filth continue their upward trajectory with the astounding ‘Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa’ which sees the band build upon the foundations laid by ‘Godspeed…’ and excel themselves with a brutal, furious assault on the senses that could be the best thing they’ve recorded since ‘Cruelty and the Beast’.
Opting for the vinyl version is a sensible option. A beautiful gatefold that truly gives the best view of the stunning artwork, the album is pressed on 180gm coloured vinyl and housed in printed sleeves which offer up pictures and lyrics. While a box set also offers a gratifying experience for the fan, it is the ultra-limited, ultra-special vinyl version (which comes complete with a free download for those of you who just can’t tear yourselves away from digital formats) that we are reviewing.
Opening with the baroque atmosphere of ‘the cult of Venus Aversa’, the band don’t break convention by building the introduction into the stupendously fast track rather than offering it as a separate entity. Easily the best opening since the still-awe-inspiring ‘thirteen autumns and a widow’, it offers everything that’s best about the filth – razor sharp guitars, insane keyboards, more blast beats than your head can stand and Dani’s depraved yelp which, remarkably, is still a multi-faceted thing of wonder. Lyrically, too, Dani is in fine form with his typically ornate prose printed on the record sleeves for those who struggle to decipher his animalistic grunts and groans. With the band seemingly at the height of their powers it is of little surprise that the second track ‘one final step from the abyss’ maintains the ludicrous standard set by its predecessor. Opening with a darkly atmospheric keyboard section, it rapidly develops into a maelstrom of incredibly fast guitar and lyrical venom yet it is possessed of a dark groove and sense of control that keeps the track from ever sounding chaotic. Indeed, such is the quality of the production (ably overseen by Dani, Scott Atkins and Doug Cook with help from the legendary Andy Sneap) that every element is beautifully reproduced for the listener’s consumption, and even if yuo hate COF it’s impossible to say that they’re not talented. Side one ends upon the utterly brutal ‘the nun with the astral habit’ which sees Dani stretch his puns to breaking point while the band create a colossally fast soundtrack. It’s a good song but suffers by comparison to the first two tracks which are simply immense (and thus excellent album openers).
Side two opens on a promising note with ‘retreat of the sacred heart’, a burning, erotically charged burst of guitar mayhem with a brilliant, thrash informed breakdown which sees the band slow the pace a touch for a chugging and awesomely heavy chorus. It is, in point of fact, a simply great metal song that combines all of those disparate elements CoF have hinted at with their covers of everyone from Anathema to Iron Maiden into a single, melodic, well-crafted chunk of metal. Next up is ‘the persecution song’ (perhaps written with the band themselves in mind given the amount of unfair flack they’ve had to dodge from tedious purists outraged by the notion that the band might actually be enjoying themselves) which is surely the band’s token single (it is so much in the vein of ‘the death of love’ that it could be its sequel), but then you have to forgive CoF their token ‘pop moment’ because in fairness they’ve been including them in their records at least since ‘Midian’ and they’re always great ways to sucker the unsuspecting into their dark world. For those with a faster taste, then ‘Deceiving eyes’ sees things back on track.
Side three sees the vinyl change from a dark blue to a deep, rich, Burgundy colour and the frankly ridiculous ‘Lilith immaculate’ which deftly mixes furious guitars and guttural screams with some excellently tempered female vocals and a classical flourish in the melody line that is wholly unexpected and entirely welcome – this may be the effect of former Abigail Williams pianist Ashley Ellyllon joining as pianist and backing vocalist (replacing Sarah Jezebel Deva, who went off to release a singularly underwhelming solo album) – but certainly the female vocals have a greater weight in the mix than previously. ‘The spawn of love and war’ opens with a suitably grandiose classical section before the guitars smash the mood to pieces and Dani lets forth a litany of beautifully phrased and thoroughly lascivious lyrics on what is easily the catchiest track on the album despite the fact that it cheerfully retains its resolute heaviness. ‘Harlot on a pedestal’, meanwhile is an awesome slab of black-hearted metal that will silence any of the band’s numerous critics if they stop harping on long enough to actually listen to the track.
That leaves only side four to round out this lengthy, and largely excellent, album. Strangely, the last side opens less-than-spectacularly with the rather odd ‘forgive me father’ which showcases the Filth’s love of NWOBHM just a little too clearly and, with all due respect, Dani really should avoid trying heavy metal vocals. His attempt is by no means bad, it’s just not why we love Cradle and the effect is rather like hearing Madonna doing a Courtney Love impression – she may do a good job, but you just don’t need it to happen! ‘Beyond eleventh hour’ opens rather like a cross between a track from ‘cruelty…’ and something by Nightwish, but happily it shifts into more familiar territory quickly enough and it’s another belting Cradle tune that shows that this most devilish of bands still have talent, charisma and energy to spare. Closing number ‘beast of extermination’ finishes the album in fine style and as the whole spinning circus of depravity ends, you’re left wanting to start all over again.
Cradle of filth will always divide opinion. To be honest, to hell with the naysayers – CoF are fun, bold, exciting and often very, very good. This is easily their best album in some time and that’s including the excellent ‘Godspeed on the devil’s thunder’. If people out there want to roll their eyes and curse the name of filth, so be it, but if you like heavy, fast and intelligently written metal then this album will undoubtedly give you much pleasure. A gem from a perennially underrated band.