Despite having made a fairly triumphant return to form with their last album, 2015’s Hammer of the Witches, Cradle of Filth seemed to be doing everything in their power to quash that momentum in the lead up to to their twelfth full-length offering, Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay. The album’s hokey artwork only added to the off-putting nature brought on by its clunky title, and the two uninspiring singles and the seemingly rushed and seemingly un-selfawarely camp videos that accompanied them did little to drum up confidence in the forthcoming record. Add to that the release of Carach Angren‘s similarly-themed Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten—released earlier in the year to widespread acclaim and popularity—and it really looked like the Brits had painted themselves into a corner from which there was little hope of return. Fans of the band needn’t have worried, however, for Cryptoriana is yet another surprisingly solid entry into one of the most consistent catalogues in the history of extreme metal.
Cryptoriana is an unexpectedly aggressive affair—harking back to the trashier approach of 2000’s Midian while also recalling the more melodic instrumental approach introduced on 2008’s underrated Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder. Although it came off fairly flat when released as a single, “Heartbreak and Seance” provides the perfect opening for the record—immediately dropping into its rollicking thrash riff following the blastbeat-ridden introduction of “Exquisite Torments Await” (another throwback to Midian perhaps, in its invocation of Hellraiser and the Cenobites?). For whatever reason, the track sounds much fuller and more energised in its album setting than it came across during its notably flat single-release, and its catching guitar melodies and grandious chorus provide the perfect counterpart to their forceful surrounds. The track sets the tone perfectly for what’s to come, while simultaneously erasing any doubts the record’s dubious promotional cycle may have instilled.
This thrashier approach is confirmed by the addition of a cover of Annihilator‘s “Alice in Hell” as a bonus track—stellar as always—and continued across the record’s next two offerings, which also happen to be its two strongest outings. “Achingly Beautiful” is perhaps the fastest and most direct number Cradle of Filth have released in some time. Its furious thrash assault is interrupted only by a sullen mid-section which blends the trademark interlude of “Nymphetamine” with the more dramatic and extreme moments of Dusk… and her Embrace (1996), before cannoning back to top-speed via some outstanding twin guitar harmonies. Cryptoriana‘s strongest track, however, comes in the form of its following number: “Wester Vespertine”; which balances the speed and aggression of its predecessors with more grandiose and fully-realised melodies, and may well be the strongest singular addition to the Cradle of Filth canon since “Nymphetamine”. The symphonic touches and vocal flourishes added by Lindsay Schoolcraft elevate the track into truly epic territories and the dueling solos and distinctly Iron Maiden-esque melodies laid down in by Marek Šmerda and Rich Shaw are among the record’s most elating.
This record is built around the strongest line-up Cradle of Filth have had in quite a while. It also happens to be the first time in the band’s career that they’ve carried over a complete line-up from one record to the next. Suitably, Cryptoriana sees them operating like a more cohesive and well-balanced unit than they have since, at-least, their early, classic period. Šmerda and Shaw’s never cease bouncing off and encouraging each other, and their playing feels utterly energised as a result. Likewise, Schoolcraft’s keyboards are the most effective and least over-bearing the band have boasted during their modern era and Martin “Marthus” Škaroupka’s drumming on this record constitutes the most powerful performance he’s laid down since taking over the sticks from Adrian Erlandsson (At the Gates, The Haunted) over a decade ago. Likewise, relative staple Daniel Firth plays a far more prominent role here than he has on the last few record’s, with the increased presence of his bass in the mix adding considerably to the record’s overall more vigorous aesthetic.
The album is certainly not without its faults. There are surly many who will bemoan its more “simplistic” and more melodically-inclined songwriting approach, compared with the all-out aural assault of Hammer of the Witches, and its stale Victorian ghost story narrative is probably better off ignored along with the many bouts of cringe-worthy lyrical phrases it inspires (see: “winter seems far colder, without you by my shoulder”) is probably best left untouched. There’s also a valid accusation to be made that the album is severely front-loaded, with only the thundering “Death and the Maiden” making any real impact out of those track which make the record’s second half. However, just because they’re not outstanding doesn’t mean the album’s later tracks are anything less than solid, with the exception of its rather toothless second-single “You Will Know the Lion by His Claw”, which proves the record’s only real “dud.”
Cryptoriana is not a perfect record, and it’s a long way from troubling the hegemony of those albums released during the band’s early, classic period. Nevertheless, it stands alongside (and perhaps even supersedes) Hammer of the Witches as one of the strongest releases Cradle of Filth have delivered in quite a while and—if they can manage to keep this line-up and level of vitality up for the foreseeable future—it suggests that there’s still plenty more worthwhile offerings to come from these once-legendary, extreme metal masters.
Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay is out September 22 via Nuclear Blast.