Arguably one of British metal’s biggest exports, Cradle of Filth have been plying their noisy trade for the last quarter century and bar the odd misstep, have released remarkably consistent albums. Forerunner Hammer of the Witches was a tour de force of all things Cradle – but can its verbosely named sequel Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay keep the Filthy dream alive?
The answer, despite what lukewarm first single ‘Heartbreak and Séance’ would have had you believe, is a resounding: yes, drenched in all the hallmark pomposity, symphonic flourishes and utterly inhuman screeches guaranteed to delight fans of their bombastic style and terrify parents everywhere. As always Cradle wear their influences proudly while injecting their own unique take to meld a truly unique blend of metal; the Iron Maiden-esque duelling guitars (the solo around the five-minute mark of ‘Wester Vespertine’ being a particularly excellent example) and galloping rhythms abound throughout especially in third track ‘Achingly beautiful’. The track also showcases Lindsay Schoolcraft’s ethereal voice in a wonderfully haunting counterpoint to Dani’s vocals that screech and roar throughout. There’s even some thrash-y influence to be felt throughout as well in the breakneck paces often adopted that aren’t quite black metal and seem to have more in common with a gothic Slayer.
The album opens with ‘Exquisite Torments Await’; not a full song by usual Cradle standards but a definitive introduction to their sound, which swiftly gives way to the aforementioned ‘Heartbreak and Séance’, which free of the constraints of its original single release finds itself much more at home as part of an album proper, where it sounds less like a tentative taste of things to come and more like the band fully spreading their wings, enveloping the listener and drawing you fully into their gothic Victorian soundscapes. ‘Heartbreak…’ marks an early album highlight, a rollicking introduction to the ghoulish and macabre world of Victorian era horror. Later highlights include ‘Vengeful Spirit’ boasts an honest-to-goodness chorus courtesy of siren Lindsay Schoolcraft and album closer ‘Death of the Maiden’ which starts with a deranged calm before spiralling back into insanity, where even the quiet passages come across as the unhinged wailing of asylum inmates.
Cryptoriana… is by no means short; the album’s eight tracks meander across nearly 53 minutes, with only the introductory ‘Exquisite Torments Await’ dropping below the 6-minute mark. You’d be forgiven for thinking that by the time title track ‘The Seductiveness of Decay’ rolls around you might be getting toward the end – you’d be wrong by a good 25 or so minutes, but that’s not to say the album is wearing or repetitive. Rather, Cradle manage to pack so much into each song that each feels like several distinct movements, each chronicling the obsession of the Victorians with the supernatural, death and what lies beyond.
For a band whose earlier works Dusk… And Her Embrace amongst others are widely considered classics, it would have been so easy for the band to rehash old glories – instead what we have is a band experiencing a creative renaissance, riding high off their success but not content rest on their laurels. Cryptoriana… is one of, if not quite Cradle of Filth’s finest hour, a relentless descent into madness and horror. When the album finally releases the listener from its grasp through the slow climb out of the pit that is ‘Death and the Maiden’ it feels like the first steps out in the blinding sunlight after years spent underground and you can’t help but wonder whether you came back out of it truly alone – or whether something followed you back out. Overall, it’s a gothic, cinematic masterpiece with all the bombast and lashings of menace we’ve come to expect from them, with plenty of twists and turns that prove that even twelve albums in, Cradle of Filth have got more than a few tricks left up their sleeves.
Highlights: Wester, Vespertine; Vengeful Spirit; Death and the Maiden