12 July 2015

Cradle Of Filth - Hammer Of The Witches

The revolving-door-collective known as Cradle Of Filth are back with their latest album. Whether there is anyone other than Cradle fans who cares remains to be seen. In my humble opinion, they've been off the boil since 'Nympetamine', an album released in 2004. I caught them on that tour and they put on a great show with some kick-ass tunes and a stage-show with flame throwers, angle-grinders and other goodies. Say what you like about them, they seemed to be having fun (although then-female vocalist Sarah Jezebel Diva was sat at the back with one eye on the clock...). Then, it seemed like the constant line-up changes caught up with them as each release after that just didn't cut it at all, quality dilution and all that. Still, they've soldiered on with vocalist Dani Filth as the only constant and are now back with this album.

I've done a Cradle blog before (Midian - linked here), but I hadn't gone into too much detail. Basically, the band formed in 1991 in Suffolk and soon gained attention with their black metal styling. The first album (The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh - 1994) was a great debut, although one could tell the band had been taking notes when listening to Immortal, Emperor and, I daresay, Darkthrone as black metal was gaining momentum after having surfaced round about 1991. And it's possible that a number of well publicised incidents in Norway involving church burnings and murder had a hand in it too. It was all a bit juvenile and stupid, really. As far as I know, there wasn't much of that caper going on in England, bar one incident but it was more like a storm in a teacup, really (Some kids trashed a graveyard and got arrested for it). Other factors in Cradle's early notoriety were a t-shirt which bore the slogan JESUS IS A CUNT, which resulted in people being arrested under some ancient, draconian religious law when "obscene publications act" would have been better, claiming that the Irish should be "starved of potatoes again" due to disliking the latest Kerbdog single (This was during reviews in either Metal Hammer or Kerrang!), admiration for the Marquis De Sade and possibly some other stuff that doesn't immediately spring to mind.

This all lead to accusations of style over substance, despite releasing some of the best material of their career during this period ('Vempire', 'Dusk And Her Embrace' and 'Cruelty And The Beast'). They also starred in a TV show called "Living With The Enemy" where a fan and their mum followed the band on tour! Dani Filth came across as a well-spoken chap who obviously knew how to court controversy and the rest of the band seemed OK too. After an EP called 'From The Cradle To The Enslave', the band then did 'Midian' which showcased a new direction of sorts - still heavy, but more accessible. Oh, and a film called Cradle Of Fear where Dani Filth was out acted by (actress) Emily Booth's tits.

Then after a bunch of average albums and what seems like constant line-up changes (matched or exceeded by Soulfly), we're now up to this album. I've heard a song already and it sounded like more of the same. Obviously I may be wrong so we're gonna have a listen now and see whether it's any good or not. Cradle Of Filth or Basket Of Shite? Let's find out...

First off - the front cover looks like Herne from 80's TV show "Robin Of Sherwood" (a continuation of sorts of the Robin Hood legend but with added Paganism. It starred a young Ray Winstone and Game Of Thrones actor Clive Mantle) is having an orgy. The reason I'm telling you this is because the first track is one of those short musical interludes that passes for an album opener these days. It sounds alright - as far as these things go. It's called 'Walpurgis Eve', by the way.

The first track proper - fucking hell, it sounds like something approximating the material on 'Dusk And Her Embrace'! It's fast, heavy and has swirling keyboards! "Yours Immortally" is it's name and it's really good! I've no idea what it's about as Dani is singing in parrot-vocals again. The musicianship is well tight too. New guitarists Richard Shaw and Marek Smerda certainly have skills and compliment each other nicely! Even though it's six minutes long, it feels like it hadn't even started!

"Enshrined In Crematoria" is next and pretty much follows the same vein, flurry of an opener before going to a crunchy mid-pace and back again. The temptation to get ones hopes up that this album may be a contender for AOTY is high....outro is creepy keyboard. Something they've done to great effect before, and will always do so!

"Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess" - sounds like sex with my ex. Seriously, it's ANOTHER flurry of the type of stuff Cradle used to do before they tried to go commercial. A big shout-out to female vocalist and keyboardist Lindsay Schoolcraft who has made both of those things sound cool again instead of token.

"Blackest Magick In Practice" - seriously, can we stop spelling magic with a "k"? Aleister Crowley may have read a few books but for the most part, he was a colossal junkie who'd shag anything with a heartbeat, not some great sage and philosopher...another cracking song though, chaotic and heavy. From the looks of things, the next track ("The Monsterous Sabbat") is going to be a brief instrumental...

Yup, it is. A bit quieter than the into and sounds OK, but not too arsed about these things. Next...

"Hammer Of The Witches" - Foreboding intro, like Matthew Hopkins and his crew have just rocked up and are ready to dispense justice. This is, so far, the best song of the album. It's looking more likely we've got our best Cradle album in ten years. It kind of reminds me of "Lord Abortion" but heavier. Cracking song.

"Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych" - this is the song I wasn't keen on! Now that I've had a proper chance to hear it, it's not as bad as first thought. Is it the best song on the album? No. A bit more melodic than the others, it's ideal first single material - if bands still do that.

"The Vampyre At My Side" has an acoustic guitar intro before descending into another hyper mix of heaviness, speed and keyboard swirls. If it sounds like I'm giving a bad impression of this album, I apologise. Although the songs all basically follow the same formula - hence why my descriptions of them all seem the same - it's done so well. Deffo back on form.

"Onward Christian Soldiers" has a keyboard intro that sharp descends into what sounds like the audio equivalent of an SS Panzer Division rolling over the hill, ready to attack. There will be some souls burning in hell tonight...the keyboards don't really swirl in this one, but stab with intent. Nice slow bit in the middle with some intricate guitar-play. The drumming and bass haven't been bad either! Nice ominous outro too, which actually turns out to be...

"Blooding The Hounds Of Hell" - yup, in possibly the best example of a splice-together since the girl got hit by the bus in "Final Destination", the outro of the last song leads into this one! Another musical interlude piece but this one is actually good, which makes a change.

So, it looks like Cradle Of Filth actually have their best album in years! The production is spot on and the musicianship is spot on too! But, it's not without it's flaws. For a start, it's still part of an extremely limited genre which not everyone is going to appreciate. And it also suffers from not straying too far from the main formula within that genre. However, when it's done as well as this, then I guess it's OK. Long-time fans will dig this and new converts may very well be persuaded to check these lads and lass out further. Enjoy!

8 - Oh now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart.

Top Track: Hammer Of The Witches.

Chris J.

This album is available on iTunes.


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