Review: Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay
With the second album from a revamped lineup, Dani Filth’s long-lived extreme metal institution is back at the top of its game.
Cradle of Filth is a band whose new output I largely dismissed a long time ago. While I was certainly aware of Cradle from a young age, they were not my gateway into black metal as they were for many an alienated teen – Emperor, Darkthrone, Dimmu Borgir, and Immortal served that purpose for me. I’ve always enjoyed several of the band’s records, particularly their raw, blackened debut with The Principle of Evil Made Flesh and the pinnacle of their increasingly symphonic, concept-oriented work with 2000’s Midian. However, it was easy for me to simply stop listening to their work when they drifted too far into uninspired bids for accessibility coupled with overweening pretension, a process that I saw beginning with Damnation and a Day back in 2003.
All of that is to say, when I threw on Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay I was a little surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying a Cradle of Filth album in 2017. The fluid nature of the lineup has allowed frontman and sole mainstay Dani Filth to periodically refresh and redirect the group, and the latest version has a combination of musical focus and technical precision that had long been missing. As is obvious by the time you’ve made it through eerie opener “Exquisite Torments Await” and about half of first song proper, “Heartbreak and Seance,” all the elements that make the band instantly identifiable remain: an extreme metal backbone and Filth’s trademark shrieks and gothic rants are granted both epic scope and accessibility by the harmonized guitars, symphonic sweep, and melodic female vocals. However, the precise balance of these features is subject to change, and the current version of Cradle is producing the band’s most satisfying work since the aforementioned Midian.
As it turns out, the departure of longtime guitarist Paul Allender in 2014 seems to have been just what the band needed to find its way again. While Allender played on both my favorite Cradle albums, he was also Filth’s primary collaborator on several lackluster records. Now, I know next to nothing about how the songwriting for any of those albums happened, but what seems clear is that rebuilding the band lit a fire under Filth’s ass, recentering the group and opening up fresh opportunities for musical growth. Though I missed it at the time, 2015’s Hammer of the Witches was a welcome return to emphasizing quality metal riffs over unrelenting orchestrations, conceptual navel-gazing, or ill-conceived attempts at crossover success.
Now, in an unusual turn, Cradle has recorded a second album with precisely the same lineup, an international crew that has settled into an appealing groove for composition and performance. Czech drummer Marthus debuted on the drums back in 2008, and he continues to hold down his place behind the kit with double bass-driven authority. Bassist Daniel Firth, who hails from Scotland and also puts in time with Man Must Die, joined the band in 2012 for The Manticore and Other Horrors, offering a solid – if understated – low end. Canadian Lindsay Schoolcraft joined for Hammer, and she rounds out the sound with her impressive vocal range and contributions on the keys (though she steps aside on “Vengeful Spirit” so Filth can have a surprisingly heavy reunion with his “Nymphetamine” collaborator, ex-Leaves’ Eyes singer Liv Kristine).
However, the biggest contributors to Cradle’s renaissance are unquestionably the guitar duo of Ashok – another recruit from the Czech Republic – and Englishman Rich Shaw, who also came into the fold in 2014 and get even more room to flex here than on their debut. The songs cleanly knit together the range of influences that have defined Cradle over the years, striking a tasteful balance between vicious aggression and engaging melodies. Black metal tremolos, thrashy palm-muting, and touches of gothic atmosphere are all in evidence, adeptly knitted together with plenty of chances for lead guitar theatrics.
Indeed, one way Cryptoriana differs from past Cradle efforts is the room the six-stringers are allowed to stretch out their skills and regularly fire off solos. Iron Maiden is a long-acknowledged influence on the band, and there’s no questioning where the inspiration for many of the guitar harmonies and leads on this album come from. The signature of the NWOBHM kings is all over “Achingly Beautiful” and “The Seductiveness of Decay,” each boasting riffs that recall tunes like “The Trooper” and “Hallowed be Thy Name.”
At this point, producer Scott Atkins – who has worked on every Cradle album since Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa – is very much aware of what it takes to pull these performances together in a coherent fashion. It takes a steady hand in the control booth to keep all the busy arrangements from overwhelming the guitars and vocals or plunging entirely into chaos. Finding the right balance hasn’t always worked out with past lineups, but the results here are muscular and organic despite occasionally drifting toward sensory overload.
The album keeps up the pace throughout, closing with the powerful one-two of “You Will Know the Lion by his Claw” and “Death and the Maiden.” The former interrupts its thrashy attack just enough for Schoolcraft to exhibit her abilities before wrapping with a blasting passage that recalls the band’s black roots. The final track slows down in order to realize the epic possibilities of Cradle’s current sound. Over the course of the nearly nine-minute running time, clean guitar gives way to chugs and speedy riffs, while melody lines and Filth’s venom intertwine throughout.
If you have always found Cradle of Filth too cheesy, bloated, and image-conscious for your tastes, Cryptoriana may only reinforce your opinion. However, the thrash and NWOBHM influences are sufficiently pronounced on this album that I would not hesitate to recommend it to any melodeath fan. And if, like me, you stopped checking out new albums from this group years ago, it might be time to give Filth and his compatriots another chance. Cryptoriana is a metal album through and through, one that impresses with the instrumental and compositional skill on display while making a strong argument that Cradle of Filth’s best days may not be behind them at all.