Half-Life – Cradle of Filth, Part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of our retrospective on one of black and extreme metal’s paradoxically most popular and overlooked acts: Cradle of Filth. This part covers everything from 2004’s Nymphetamine to the present day and tries to pin down exactly why their reputation has suffered during this period, even though they’ve still been putting out some fairly decent albums. Refresh yourself with Part 1, and follow through to the end for a quick wrap up and some speculation on what the future holds for the band nearly a half-century into their sordid career.

Roadrunner Revival: 2004–2008

Nymphetamine (2004)

Following Damnation and a Day‘s unfortunate disappearance into the void, Cradle of Filth regrouped to Roadrunner Records and released what many would consider to be their last great—or at least good album. Yet, while I’m sure many younger fans would consider Nymphetamine to number among the band’s true masterpieces, it’s an undeniably flawed record.

It’s major sin is that it’s too damn long. Clocking in at over an hour and fifteen minutes—scarcely a minute shorter than the alienating Damnation—and boasting a track list fourteen songs deep (two of which are the same bloody song!); Nymphetamine is far from the refined return to form it was heralded as at the time and has often been regarded as since.

On top of its excessive bloat, some of the tracks are downright goofy. The first half of “Coffin Fodder” feels phoned in, and “Gilded Cunt” is as juvenile as the stage names they took up for the record (bassist Dave Pybis is credited as “Herr Pubis”), and Dani Filth’s evaluation of the track as sounding like Sepultura‘s Roots, meets Terrorizer‘s World Downfall” is way off the mark. Nevertheless, the album earns its keep with a couple of choice cuts, iincluding, of course, its epic title-track, and it would go on to represent a commercial peak for the band, from which they would spend the better part of the next decade recovering.

Thornography (2006)

Now we come to what might just be—alongside Damnation and a Day—the most underrated entry in the Cradle of Filth catalogue. Hot of the heels of Nymphetamine‘s critical and commercial success, Thornography sees the Suffolkians largely embracing the commercialised, mainstream reputation they’d been tagged with for so long.

Although Thornography never achieved the same level of success (either critically or commercially) as its predecessor, it is in many ways the superior record. On top of being more consistent and concise, it also boasts some of the best individual compositions the band have ever put their name to. “Dirge Inferno” ranks alongside “Cthulhu Dawn” and “The Promise of Fever” as being one of the best album-openers of the band’s career, and the record hardly lets up from there.

Keyboardist Martin Powell left the band in the lead-up to this record leaving it largely stripped of the symphonics that had defined the sound of their last couple of releases. Instead of the grandiose theatrics of those records, Thornography is not only a much more guitar-based record, but also a more song-oriented one as well. Rather than having to add up to some extravagant whole, the songs on this album are allowed to stand on their own, and the extra attention paid to individual compositions resulted in what is easily the band’s most consistent album of their later period.

 

Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder (2008)

Here, the band are in full Gothic rock opera mode—this time tackling “The Life and Crimes of Gilles de Rais;” a fifteenth-century French knight who fought alongside Joan of Arc and spent much of his spare time molesting and murdering young boys. Yet, although it is perhaps their weakest release up until this point (and despite its godawful cover art) Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder is nonetheless another deceptively solid entry into the Cradle of Filth canon.

Godspeed sounds much more in line with Cradle of Filth’s earlier work than their previous two records, and—although it remains a touch bloated at seventy-one minutes. Yet, while it lacks in the immediacy of its predecessor, it makes up for it in narrative grandiosity, and many of its earlier offerings are more than strong enough to stand on their own.

Again, it seemed like Cradle were hemorrhaging members in the lead up to this release, with guitarist Charles Hedger (later of Mayhem) and drummer Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates, The Haunted, ex-Paradise Lost) leaving before the record’s writing began and long-time collaborator Sara Jezebel Deva officially bowing out following its release—her contributions having become noticeably less prominent over the last few records. However, the condensed line-up also allowed guitarist Paul Allender to better stretch his melodic muscles, resulting in some of the best lead sections and melodic guitar hooks the band had boasted in some time.

 

Lesser Evils: 2010–2012

Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa (2010)

Following the mixed reception to Godspeed, Cradle parted ways with Roadrunner and joined Peaceville Records, where they released the awkwardly-titled Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa—marking the start of a decidedly shaky period in the band’s history.

When the video for “Lilith Immaculate” arrived, featuring a glamourised (read: sparkly) version of the gothic, black metal superstars, it initially felt like the perfect fit. However, what eventually arrived was a far more abrasive release than its marketing might have suggested, and, overall, the album never quite seems to rectify these two approaches.

Moment to moment, Venus Aversa is arguably as strong as anything Cradle put out during this period. Unfortunately, a lot of minor inconsistencies leave this otherwise formidable release feeling like it’s less than the sum of its parts. The orchestrations are way too high in the mix, often obscuring or distracting from everything else that’s going on beneath them; and while each individual section is as solid as you might expect, none of the songs themselves—with the exception of “The Nun with the Astral Habit”—are sturdy enough to truly stand on their own.

The Manticore and Other Horrors (2012)

Their shtick now feeling well and truly played out, the band made a decisive play at reinvigorating their sound by offering a rawer, almost punk-inspired experience with their tenth full-length record. Unfortunately—while its rougher tone was certainly welcome—The Manticore and Other Horrors offers little more in the way of redeeming features.

It might seem strange to write this record off as forgettable, given the explosive opening of “The Abhorrent” and “For Your Vulgar Delectation.” However, beyond this visceral opening salvo, The Manticore contains little to latch onto. While it might not be a “terrible” album per se, it’s easily the weakest entry in Cradle of Filth’s catalogue, and it’s one which did little to quell the waning interest the band had been experiencing up until that point.

 

The Return……?: 2015–Present

Hammer of the Witches (2015)

Following the release of Nymphetamine, Cradle of Filth had slipped into a comfortable rhythm of releasing an album every two years. Their output had therefore become predictable, if not downright average, and each of these regular releases had seen the band’s line-up become more and more unstable. Allendar left the band (for a second time) after Manticore, essentially leaving them as a three piece, and they took the better part of the next five years to regroup. This much needed time off was perhaps the best thing they could have done at this point in their career, and when they returned it was with not only an overhauled line-up and a fresh contract with Nuclear Blast but also the best album they’d released in more than a decade in Hammer of the Witches.

While I might personally prefer the unabashedly melodic angle of Thornography, it’s hard to argue that Hammer of The Witches isn’t the strongest release Cradle have put out since Nymphetamine—possibly before. Everything about this record feels more urgent and vital than anything they’d released over the past decade, and the production struck the perfect balance between the band’s modern sheen and the urgent rawness of their earlier releases.

The guitar playing—courtesy of newcomers Marek Šmerda and Rich Shaw—was the most consistent and personality-rich they’d had since at least Damnation and a Day, maybe even Midian. “Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess” is perhaps the best singular composition they’ve come up with since “Nymphetamine (Overdose),” and Dani Filth’s vocals on this album sound, likewise, reinvigorated.

Although it wasn’t quite a true return to the outstanding form of the band’s early years, Hammer of The Witches was exactly the kind of album Cradle of Filth needed to release at this point in their career, and one which sees them in a much stronger place these days than they might have been without it.

 

Odds and Sods:

While the band’s earlier EPs and bonus editions are well worth seeking out, their penchant for releasing extra material reached critical capacity around this later period. Perhaps more off-putting to their waning fan base than any truly discernible drop in the quality of their output was the sheer volume of it that’s cropped up over the last decade or so.

Nymphetamine’s bonus disc is another solid entry to their expanded canon, but diminishing returns were definitely starting to show by the time Thornography’s accompanying, deluxe DVD disc Harder, Darker Faster (2008) showed up—more or less clashing with the release of Godspeed—the premise was truly wearing thin. Godspeed sat the deluxe edition treatment out, but Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa made up for it by being accompanied by both a bonus edition and the Evermore Darkly compilation (2011), which featured a bunch of pointless remixes and a live DVD that nobody asked for.

The supposed silence between Manticore and Hammer of The Witches was in fact punctuated by perhaps the band’s most superfluous release yet, 2012’s Midnight in the Labyrinth: a two disc compilation of orchestral “re-imaginings” of many of the band’s earlier songs. The compilation may have made for a nice die-hard fans only release in isolation. However, it was followed by a remastered release of their early Total Fucking Darkness demo, in 2014, without any new material in-between.

Likewise their triumphant comeback was rather spoiled by the release of an “original” version of Dusk …and Her Embrace—recorded with the band’s original line-up while they were still with Candlelight Records. The Original Sin (2016), as it was known, was a more compelling curiosity than they had offered up before hand, and may well have made for a nice collectors item in isolation. However, like Midnight In The Labyrinth, it was just one more extraneous release to add to a pile that had quickly come to outweigh the band’s quality, original material.

Conclusion:

Cradle of Filth were far from the groundbreaking and provocative band they made their name as during this second period. Nothing they released during this time comes all that close to matching the quality of their earlier offerings. However, this isn’t to say that what they did put out was necessarily sub par. They continued to put out some really good (if not quite as great) records during this second phase of their career, and even those lesser entries aren’t all that bad so much as lacking in personality.

However, more damaging than the perceived quality of the band’s output over the last fifteen years has been its overwhelming volume and almost mundane regularity. Their albums ceased being challenging to their listeners around the time of Nymphetamine and from Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder onward they’d essentially been releasing lesser variations on the same theme.

Cradle of Filth’s most inventive days are long behind them. Yet, with Hammer of the Witches, a revitalised line-up, and some much needed time away, they’re also now in a stronger position than they have been for a long time.

Their twelfth full-length album—another concept record, titled Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay—will be released in September and in what must be the first time in over a decade, I’m actively looking forward to it …even if it’s dodgy cover art and even dodgier first couple of videos don’t look particularly promising.