If I were tasked with handing out an award titled “Band That Most Successfully Got Its Shit Together,” England’s black/gothic/extreme metal veterans Cradle of Filth would be on my shortlist. After encountering and subsequently ignoring them for years during their radio-friendly phase, they finally hooked me with 2008’s Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder. But delving into their back catalog afterward unearthed such an inconsistent discography, that I treated subsequent offerings with justifiably tempered optimism. That was, at least, until 2015’s Hammer of the Witches dropped. An intoxicatingly melodic and thrashing blend of goth metal melodrama, it ultimately pulled me in much more strongly than it had our resident cat-man, becoming one of my favorite releases of its year. Its follow-up, Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay, may lack the same “wow” factor, but that’s only because this time around I knew that a great album was a real possibility.
If Cryptoriana can be accused of being disappointing, it’s only because it’s not a revelation on the same level as its predecessor. This is still Cradle of Filth combining elements of black, goth, melodeath, thrash, and power metal in a catchy and memorable cocktail of symphonic extreme metal that stands head and shoulders with the best of their older material. These compositions are defined by their dynamism; yes, they’re as lengthy as ever with most clocking in around seven minutes, but instances such as the melancholic black/aggressive thrash duality of “Wester Vespertine” and the surprisingly catchy, nearly post-rock vibe in the chorus of “You Will Know the Lion by His Claw” make for tracks that fly by so fast that many feel half their length. Part of this fleet feeling certainly comes from Cryptoriana‘s sheer riff count, which rivals the number of times Dani Filth has ever shoehorned the word “cunt” into his lyrics in what might just be the most guitar-driven record of CoF’s career.
I’m willing to heap equal praise on both Hammer of the Witches and Cryptoriana, yet back-to-back listens of both albums admittedly leave me inclined to elect the former as my favorite. Though nearly identical stylistically speaking, each record has unique strengths; Cryptoriana wins out on the songwriting front thanks to tracks that rarely stagnate despite their length (“Heartbreak and Seance” being the sole exception due to its cyclical structure), but Hammer was, in general, the catchier effort, with downright infectious rhythms and guitar flourishes that took months to leave my head. Even so, Cryptoriana’s thick, melodramatic atmosphere makes it feel like a successful extension of Hammer, maintaining its rhythmic style while delving into the realms of romantic horror deeper than I’ve heard since Godspeed and Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa.
Cryptoriana’s production makes it one of the best sounding records in Cradle’s oeuvre, but considering how dreadful some of the band’s albums have sounded, this isn’t as significant a claim as it appears at surface level. The typewriter bass and tinny cymbal presence make for a somewhat synthetic sounding kit, and the bass is almost entirely obscured any time the rhythm guitar chugs along in the low-end (so, most of the album), but the instruments otherwise sound well-spaced in the mix and Dani Filth’s ever-distinctive vox are kept at a relatively unobtrusive volume. He sounds much the same here as he has for the past decade or so; call that “phoning it in” but he at least knows at this point how to balance the various “modes” of his voice to craft an entertaining vocal playbook, so long as you can stomach his style. Regardless, the precise tandem in which guitarists Ashok and Rick Shaw operate is the album’s true driving force, and I highly suspect their recruitment three years ago is largely responsible for CoF’s renewed vigor.
If, dear reader, you slept on Hammer of the Witches, this album is your wake-up call. Proving that Hammer’s success was no mere fluke, Cryptoriana is a clear signal that Cradle of Filth is currently in the middle of one of the best phases of their career, blending several genres with their trademark gothic atmosphere so effectively that it sounds deceptively simple in its execution. Ignore the awful album art, disregard the horribly Photoshopped band photo above, and check out Cryptoriana sooner rather than later if you have even a passing interest in this band.