Cradle of Filth - Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay - (9.5/10)
Published on September 28, 2017
When Cradle of Filth dropped the bombastic Hammer of the Witches in 2015, people sat up and took notice. Consistency was never in the Englishmen’s vocabulary – 31 full-time members in 26 years will do that to a band – so there was little expectation for a second coming of the same proportions as Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay two years later. Therefore, you filthy ones, attempt not to let out shrill cries of delight on finding that this is indeed another magnum opus that sees CoF remain at the top of their game, combining most of the features that have made them recognisable and beloved into a luxury whole.
The first sign of the band’s mindset is that the same line-up returns from Hammer of the Witches, while the presence of only eight tracks hints at the focus with which this was made. The only shorter song (the other tracks range between six and nine minutes) looks to all intents and purposes like a trademark Cradle intro, yet “Exquisite Torments Await” bursts into overdriven life after 45 seconds of ambience, replete with eerie screams courtesy of Dani Filth and a short portion of worthwhile riffing. This momentum is kept up throughout the album, which, despite a strong reversion to the gothic trappings of ‘90s black metal staple Dusk…and Her Embrace, sees its latter half pick up pace and heaviness, “Wester Vespertine” even charging through furious thrashy verses. There is thus still a lot going on during the album, though some elements will be more familiar to early fans of the band, in which frosty tremolo riffing was interspersed with gothic keyboards and often tiresome narration.
Anyone hearing the word “gothic” in connection with CoF may dread another mainstream experience like the band’s mid-’00s output, though the album’s theme of Victorian supernatural horror does not preclude plenty of heaviness alongside a healthy dose of choirs and Latin chants. The first riff to really drag the listener out of their contemplation of the lyrics (which remain complex, though less fantastical than in the past) erupts as “Heartbreak and Seance” breaks the cusp of two minutes, cutting across the whirling melodic black melodies with a percussive slap and following breath of deathly air that is barely matched during the rest of the album. However, that does not preclude “Vengeful Spirit” from melding death thrash riffing with a prolonged fiery lead that overturns the lighter introduction, while “You Will Know the Lion by His Claw” contains two superlative hooks, one of which a thousand melodeath outfits would kill for and the other of which is made effective by the simple mechanism of backing a choral part directly onto a vicious new verse.
What these many highlights should imply is that CoF no longer sound like anyone else, certainly none of the symphonic black metal bands with whom they grew up. The style exhibited on Cryptoriana is both extreme and melodic yet the emphasis on riffs and guitar leads alongside the slower gothic trappings is rather a head-scratcher, especially when some songs are diverted from their course to pursue another direction, such as the hectic riffing of “Vengeful Spirit” being broken by mournful overtures of female vocals, while none of the songs follow a conventional structure. It would seem from this that CoF are still learning deep into their career how best to present their music, working small intro and outro interludes into the main songs in order to break tension without compromising the momentum of the album. Of the songs here, every one is a winner, particularly the creativity exhibited on “You Will Know the Lion…” and “Vengeful Spirit”, though “Achingly Beautiful” is the one place where the gothic trappings threaten to overwhelm the quality of the metal song beneath.
The main reason why it’s possible for this reviewer to sit here and praise CoF while effectively pouring scorn on their past works is that the band – by simply putting their all into making interesting music – have erased many of the preconceptions and clichés that made their older albums frustrating work to fully appreciate. The added aggression from several areas gives Cryptoriana a power that few modern albums have to excite, emote, and dazzle at the same time, while the return of more keyboards and female vocals is a victory lap for Cradle, since these are the things that originally made them recognizable. As such, although it may take several listens to appreciate the full transformation of Dani et al, this is a storming statement that in every way should make you proud to say, “I love this band.”