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Cradle of Filth Bring the Hammer Down

July 23, 2015

There’s a bit of history swirling around the release of Hammer of the Witches, the eleventh studio album by Cradle of Filth. Its the most noteworthy among the new metal albums that were released on July 10th, the world’s first global release day; and secondly, its Cradle of Filth’s first album without longtime guitarist Paul Allender. Some of you may remember that Allender’s departure in April of 2014 had me speculating about how it might be the best possible thing for the future of the band. I found Allender’s songwriting contributions to be growing ever more stale and repetitive, its like he was running of enthusiasm and as a result, inspiration. It was confirmed when I saw just how bored he seemed on stage when I caught them live on their North American trek with Satyricon in 2008, so much so that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had bailed soon thereafter. But Allender stuck around through the recording and touring of 2012’s The Manticore and Other Horrors, an album that while certainly not awful, was hardly remarkable either. Its rare that you can look at a band’s current lineup and single out what’s not working, but Allender and Cradle were visibly no longer meant to be together, it was plain for everyone to see.

Cue in new guitarists Richard Shaw and Ashok (née Marek Šmerda); the former a relative unknown whose primary background is as a music teacher, while Ashok spent well over a decade with relatively low-profile Czech black metallers Root. Their road to joining the band isn’t particularly dramatic… a band like Cradle is well established, tours a lot, has plenty of contacts in the industry, so musicians (particularly guitarists) can be found easily. That they’re not known quantities is what is interesting here, that Dani chose not to make overtures to former CoF guitarists (of which there are many), nor extended invitations to other well known musicians is a bit surprising —- it would have been the easier option you’d think. To go with entirely new guys is a roll of the dice gamble, but good on Dani for going this route, because its resulted in the freshest, most vibrant, and enthralling Cradle of Filth album since Midian. It starts with the riffs, where Cradle has undergone a musical blood transfusion, as Shaw and Ashok make only the slightest of nods to the sounds, patterns, and motifs of the past. They’re committed to introducing heavier, chunkier rhythms, at times almost Behemoth-like death metal waves of crushing heaviness with thrash-metal spice thrown in to diffuse things every once in awhile.

This is evident on the first song out of the gate, “Yours Immortally”, my favorite Cradle song since “Nymphetamine”, an unrelentingly furious blast of speed and raw aggression. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard the band sound this raw, recalling the sound and spirit of their first three albums (albeit with meatier, muscular production). Another gem is “Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess”, a perfect balance of speed, punishing riffs that avoid relying on quasi-tremolo patterns the way Allender did, and Dani’s gutturally aggressive vocals. Dani is on form here, taming back his reliance on ear-splitting high shrieks to primarily reside in a more death metal growl informed vocal mid-range. He’s sounding better than ever before throughout the entirety of the album, partially due to allowing the songs to be written around guitar patterns entirely and segmenting his vocal patterns in between them. Its a given that he’s going to be a love him or hate him proposition for most people, I have some metal loving friends who can’t stand his voice, but songs like these might be as good an introduction to him as ever.

 

Continuing this theme of a resurgent classic Cradle of Filth sound and spirit is “Blackest Magick in Practice” which is structurally simple enough to feel at home on a less symphonic album such as Midian. Melodies are twisted around a terrific series of riffs, each one building upon the other, before their explosive crest at the 2:38 mark where Ashok and Shaw go full on dual-lead Maiden. The only real arrangement present is a few keyboard flourishes and ethereal female vocals, both courtesy of Lindsay Schoolcraft, a relatively new member in the line-up continuing in the role that predecessors Sarah Jezebel Deva, Rosie Smith, and briefly Ashley Jurgemeyer and most recently Caroline Campbell vacated. Female vocalists have always been a requirement in the band’s sound, and with the exception of Deva who was a force of nature, they always tend to sound relatively similar. Schoolcraft is perhaps the best of the recent rotating cast however, with her powerful ability to dynamically range her vocals without losing any of her dramatic, theatrical stylings. She might be the best keyboardist they’ve had in a long time as well, as her work on “Onward Christian Soldiers” matches the intensity and awesome melodic riff sequences of Ashok and Shaw.

Alright, enough of the blow by blow review, because if you’ve read this far down on a Cradle of Filth review at this particular blog, then you’re likely interested in hearing the album or have heard it already or were hoping for a good trashing. Since its clear the latter isn’t going to happen, you might be leaning towards mildly curious, and here’s what I’ll tell you: Cradle of Filth have been around since 1991, they sound like they sound, and to their credit no one else even manages to emulate them (for better or worse I suppose). There is I believe a quiet, unspoken stigma around being past a certain age and still listening to Cradle of Filth albums. But I’d say that people who grew up with the band in their formative metal years are exempt (mainly because I’m one of them). We remember the brutal majesty of Cruelty and the Beast, or the rather groundbreaking gothic-black metal fusion of The Principle of Evil Made Flesh and Dusk and Her Embrace albums. We remember Midian, widely regarded as the band’s pinnacle, for its Maiden like galloping blend of classic metal through an extreme metal filter. In short, I keep coming back to new Cradle of Filth releases because I’m hoping for another one of those.

If you’ve never given the band a chance and aren’t under the age of say 21… it might be hard to embrace their music given the loudness of their image. Regardless of the band’s waning record sales in the era of digital piracy, their audiences remain rather young. I recall just how old I felt when I last saw them live, surrounded by teenagers with black fingernails and spiky wrist bracelets. The band’s image does speak more to that confused and searching period of teenagedom more than anything else, the same way Alice Cooper and Kiss attracted their audiences through their over the top imagery in the late 70s and Marilyn Manson did for another generation in the late 90s. Someone in their twenties or thirties might have a hard time not rolling their eyes when checking out the lyrics for Hammer of the Witches —- I get it, believe me. But here’s what I’ll counter with: In our concerted effort to give irony and self-aware hipsterdom the proverbial finger, isn’t Cradle of Filth’s unwavering dedication to remaining faithful to their particularly theatrical, gothic, and rather English take on extreme metal worth applauding, and even respecting? Aren’t those some of the qualities we admire in metal bands? If you’re new to the band, start with this album —- whats the harm? If you’re an old fan like myself, we have another classic on our hands.

 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. L Roy permalink
    July 24, 2015 9:55 pm

    Hey pidge, couple of thoughts…

    Firstly, its technically not the first album without Allender, who departed once after ‘Principle…’ and didn’t appear on either ‘Vempire’ or ‘Dusk…’ (although in interview he claims writing credits for the latter before his departure) and he was most definitely far removed from ‘Cruelty…’.
    I concur, its sounded like he’s been getting stale for a while, however I can’t lay the blame solely at his feet. Allender’s largest fault (if I can call it that) to my ears is his lack of self editing. Far too many less than ordinary riffs – or even good riffs that just didn’t fit with the rest of the album (pre chorus to filthy little secret, anyone?) – have been forced into full songs seemingly for the sake of it, or perhaps because Dani didn’t want to drop any of his verbosity.
    The three albums from his return on Midian, he had great partners in either Gian Pyres or Martin Powell with whom to trade riffs or write a cheekily evil backing score to keep it all in context. Which brings me to point two; the production became ‘too’ clean on the albums subsequent to the departures of Pyres and Powell, with three of these albums featuring a revolving door of session keyboardists and cookie cutter young female vocals, and half of them missing a second guitarist to keep Allender in check (‘Godspeed…’ and ‘Manticore…’).
    So whilst the new guitarists have definitely put some legitimate twin guitar action back in the mix, and Schoolcraft the new keyboardist has thankfully resisted the urge to go full bombast in favour of the odd spooky touch, this new one still suffers from same problems as the last few with Allender.
    A fun album, and a step in the right direction for sure, but still too many riffs chucked in for the sake of it, and a rather un-evil production that rivals Foreigner/Toto in terms of cleanliness.
    (and whilst I’m bitching, as much of a beast as Martis is behind the skins, no amount of blasting or 32nd note tom fills can improve an ordinary riff – I wish he’d tone it down a bit, or go join dragonforce…)

    • July 25, 2015 12:04 am

      Ah love the interesting counter take you’re presenting, didn’t think anyone was going to comment actually hah! I should’ve clarified Allender’s time in the band, I just meant it was the first post-Allender album since his return for Midian. Interesting note on the production for the past few albums, I’ll agree with you that sometimes the sterility works against them …. I actually think Cruelty and the Beast had that near perfect mix of beautiful symphonics with dirty guitar crunch.

      I think the notion that Allender lacked a sufficient guitarist partner to bounce ideas off of (as well as be edited by) was perhaps his biggest drawback towards his final years in the band. If you look at those songwriting credits, he was essentially doing the bulk of the music writing by himself, down to creating entire demos on his own. I suspect that he felt kinda boxed in and limited after awhile, a notion only reinforced by his recycling his own riffs and motifs simply because there was no one there to point out to him “hey Cradle could also sound like this (insert fresh riff here).”

      Your using the term fun to describe this new album is a good indicator of why it grabbed me as it did. I had a good time listening to it and it sounds like the band was too in recording it. I’m going to make it a point to see Cradle live if I can this coming tour cycle and I suspect I’ll see that translated on stage.

  2. Mike Reich permalink
    July 30, 2015 5:01 pm

    Well, this sounds like an accurate impression of their style from that fabled Dusk-Midian period. With all these line-up chages I keep getting this nagging thought that it’s like a tribute act that got the original singer to join them on stage. On the other hand the whole thing is surprisingly consistent throughout, so good for them.

  3. iLycanthrope permalink
    September 14, 2015 3:08 pm

    This is easily the best Cradle of Filth album since “Midian”. I was honestly surprised at how goddamn good it was when I listened to it. I found DDVA and “Manticore” to be their worst albums yet (yes, I’d rather listen to “Thornography” than those – gasp!) so I wasn’t sure what to expect here, especially since they’d gone through their millionth line-up change. However, COF ended up sounding re-energized and back in top form. I’m really hoping the next album is as good as this one and that they’re moving into another golden era.

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