Cradle of Filth have long earned their place as one of the great British metal bands. It did not, however, always seem that way. At their peak (1998’s ‘Cruelty and the beast’ and 2000’s ‘Midian’), the band combined theatricality and black metal riffing to powerful effect, Dani Filth’s Marmite vocals given free reign within a conceptual framework that perfectly suited the band’s bombastic approach. Subsequent albums allowed the theatricality to come too much to the fore, and whilst the sumptuous production of ‘damnation and a day’ produced a number of fine songs, they felt stretched too thin on an album that outstayed its welcome, an issue that was to plague ‘Nymphetamine’ to an even greater extent. With their line-up in near constant turmoil ever since, Cradle of Filth have, nonetheless, been edging ever closer to the formula that made them great from the outset with ‘Godspeed on the devil’s thunder’ proving to be a welcome step in the right direction and 2015’s ‘Hammer of the witches’ transpiring to be the band’s finest outing since ‘Midian’. Now, with the line-up stable since 2014, Cradle of Filth have returned with an even stronger album, and one that demonstrates the band, once more, at the very peak of their not inconsiderable powers.
Featuring just seven lengthy tracks and a brief intro, ‘Cryptoriana – the seductiveness of decay’, sees Dani Filth and his merry band of misfits return to the high gothic melodrama of ‘Dusk and her embrace’ with stunning effect. Opening with ‘Exquisite torments await…’, as ambitious an opening as Cradle have ever penned and a brief, if potent, demonstration of the clarity of Scott Atkins’ exquisite production. It segues, neatly, into the blackened nightmare of ‘heartbreak and séance’, a track that enhances its theatrical credentials with a full-blown choir, the sombre presence of which adds considerable depth to Dani’s hysterical exhortations. Richard Shaw and Ashok are a formidable team on guitars, their razor-sharp riffs giving way to some gloriously classical soloing, more reminiscent of Maiden than Mayhem, with the overall effect being to reassert CoF’s credentials as simply a great metal band, nomenclature notwithstanding. Whilst the subject matter may deal with that which is ‘Achingly beautiful’, the music is anything but, as the band deal out whirlwind fast riffs and pummelling blast beats with gay abandon. Lindsay Schoolcraft brings a subtle elegance to proceedings, her dulcet tones providing the perfect counterpoint to Dani’s hellbound yelps, but what really strikes home is how concise the band have rendered their song-writing on this album for the tracks, whilst lengthy, take such carefully plotted routes to their destination, that you never feel as if they’re dragging. Indeed, the music here is so varied and densely plotted, that the journey appears to flash by in an instant, something that is certainly the case with the rampaging ‘Wester vespertine’. A track that harks back to the likes of ‘Midian’ thanks to the deft juxtaposition of velveteen melody and full-blooded metal onslaught, the addition of the choir only adds to its charms whilst the second half of the song is riven with carefully intertwined guitar leads that are breath-taking in their Gilmour-esque fluidity.
The second half of the album opens with ‘the seductiveness of decay’, a track that draws on Iron Maiden for structure whilst maintaining that malevolent blackened spirit for which Cradle have long been known. Again, however, it is the careful construction of the arrangement that shines through, the band tempering complexity with accessibility in a manner that frequently dispatches breath from the body in an exhalation of admiration. The pace slows a touch as ‘vengeful spirit’ drifts into view with phased guitars, only for the band to wrong foot the listener, tearing into a riff far meatier than the pre-amble would have you believe. Meanwhile the return of Liv Kristine (last heard on ‘Nymphetamine’) for a guest vocal is most welcome. As the title implies, ‘you will know the lion by his claw’ is a ravening beast of a track, although the sweetness of the symphonic elements does reduce the impact of the searing guitar work, ensuring that the piece remains firmly ensconced in the melodramatic framework of the album as a whole. Nonetheless, it does see CoF at the heaviest and there’s an impressive fire and fury to proceedings that is impossible to ignore. Final track, ‘death and the maiden’ is the perfect conclusion. Slower and doomier than the material found elsewhere, it has a perverse elegance that is as grandiose as Dani’s lyrics are salacious. It brings this gloriously over-the-top record to a remarkable climax and you’re left with the realisation that Cradle of Filth have just delivered a masterpiece.
Cradle of Filth have long been a divisive band, but amidst their swollen catalogue stand a number of irrefutable classics. The run of albums from ‘Dusk…’ to ‘Midian’ is flawless, and if the band floundered a touch as line up shifts and label strife bit deep, there remained enough consistency in their work to maintain a loyal following. Recent years, however, have seen CoF delivering albums of increasing excellence, with ‘hammer of the witches’ a particular highlight. ‘Hammer…’ it seems now, was merely preparing the ground, for ‘Cryptoriana’ is a work of considerable depth and power and it stands as Cradle’s finest album since that glorious run of the late 90s. Whilst the most fervent Filth-haters are unlikely to find themselves converted, ‘Cryptoriana’ is simply a great metal album, nothing more, nothing less, and it deserves to be lauded accordingly. 9
Special Edition Notes
Packaged, as is increasingly commonplace, in a handsome digipack, best placed to show off the typically elegant, gothic artwork, the special edition of ‘Cryptoriana’ also offers up two bonus tracks. Of these, ‘the night at Catafalque Manor’ appears to be an album outtake, the lyrics (helpfully printed in the booklet) unveiling a tale of high, gothic melodrama. It is a fine addition to the album, but it’s also easy to see why, for reasons of pacing, the band preferred it to be a bonus track. They were not always so circumspect and it is definitely to their credit that the onus is firmly on quality over quantity now. The second track is a brief glimpse of Cradle of Filth kicking back and having fun. CoF covers always raise a smile, whether it be their rabid re-working of ‘hallowed be thy name’ or a rather more tongue-in-cheek ‘temptation’, but Annihilator’s ‘Alison Hell’ is a perfect example of the band paying tribute to their more obvious influences and having a damned good time whilst they’re at it. For this alone, it is most certainly worth buying the special edition.