Even in a discography that doesn’t have any real low lights, Cradle of Filth have been something of a hot streak based on their last two records, 2015’s Hammer of the Witches and 2017’s Cryptoriana. Their relative absence during the five-year interim – the longest of any gap in their extensive career – has only made the heart grow fonder. Expectations have therefore been set pretty high for Existence is Futile, and deservedly so. Yet, while the British black metal pioneers (yes they are) have once again managed to hit the mark with their thirteenth full-length record, the album also does little to exceed the lofty bar the band have set for themselves.
As with all Cradle of Filth releases, Existence is Futile is some kind of quasi-concept record, this time based around the age-old ideas of “existentialism, existential dread and fear of the unknown.” While the narrative doesn’t come through as strongly as those of some of the band’s other records, it is best embodied by the record’s two standout offerings. The first is penultimate offering “Suffer Our Dominion,” one of two tracks to feature the return of Hellraiser‘s Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley – for the first time since Midian (2000) – who here delivers a Gain diatribe about Mother Nature reaping revenge on humanity for global warming. It’s interesting to her Cradle of Filth engaging with theme as political and current as climate change, even if it still from a cosmic horror perspective. The track is reminiscent of Cattle Decapitation‘s more recent material, both in terms of tone and subject, while retaining Cradle of Filth’s trademark symphonics and melodic sensibilities, rendering it by far the most interesting and successful song on the album. The other standout number is lead-single “Crawling King Chaos,” which is a far more conventional track, both in terms of its composition and obvious Lovecraftian subject matter. The track, which recalls some of the more intense material from Damnation and A Day (2003), isn’t that dissimilar from the rest of what Existence is Futile has to offer as a whole. nevertheless it is elevated by its catchy mid-section, which urges Apophis – the ancient Egyptian/Greek serpent of chaos – to “seize the goddess” and “reach dark office”, which is something only Cradle of Filth would think of turning into a pop hook, and is sure to remain a staple the band’s live sets for years to come. The album’s other material is not too far behind these standout numbers in terms of raw quality, but it all just lacks those extra elements and memorable qualities that make “Crawling King Chaos” and “Suffer Or Dominion”, along with the bulk of Cradle of Filth’s other material, truly stand out.
Existence is Futile’s interaction between inherent general and general anonymity recalls those of 2004’s Nymphetamine and 2010’s Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa. Like the former, it shows clear ambition and a mastery of musicianship, while also being overlong and without anything like that album’s iconic title track(s) or provocative opener to actually embed it in the mind, and like the latter, it suggests a consistent and superior quality when compared to Cradle of Filth’s competitors, without constituting a standout in their own discography, even if Nymphetamine constituted their commercial peak.Those two records rode high on the foundation of everything that came before. Yet, while this album similarly comes off the back of the return to form signaled by Cryptoriana and Hammer of The Witches, its tardiness and lack of distinction, for me, earn it a place alongside The Manticore and Other Horrors (2012) at the tail end of their discography.
This and the band’s previous two records also mark the first time in Cradle of Filth’s history that they have recorded three albums in a row with the same line-up, with the exception of new keyboardist/female vocalist Anabelle Iratni (from Dani Filth’s other band Devilment), who here replaces the departed Lindsay Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft seemed like the first female vocalist since the band’s longstanding collaboration with Sarah Jezebel Deva from 1996–2006 to bring her own personal flare to the role, and whole Iratni does a perfectly serviceable job filling her spiky platform heels, she also sounds like she’s simply doing an imitation of Deva and everyone else that came after. The interplay between guitarists Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Šmerda is as sharp as it’s ever been, but it simply doesn’t pop as much as it has on the last two records. Something else starting to show its wear is the album art, which again comes from artist Arthur Berzinsh who did the covers for Cryptoriana and Hammer of the Witches as well. Neither of those covers were great, but the shiny, 3D rendering of Existence is Futile‘s particularly irksome, giving it a somewhat Dance of Death quality, without the killer material to back it up. The image itself is a reinterpretation of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Prince of Hell” from his Garden of Unearthly Delights (ca. 1490–1510), though far less striking than the original, which would have made for a great cover all on its own. Nevertheless, Berzinsh’s interpretation is perhaps a more fitting representation for the record, which like its cover art is overburdened and unfocused, in an odd incarnation of substance without style.
Existence is Futile is a perfectly satisfying record. It’s just also rather unremarkable, which is something I’m not sure Cradle of Filth have ever really been before.There’s no real reason to fault the record, other than that Cradle of Filth have made a habit of producing far better ones. The band’s newfound momentum may have been enough to carry it through, had it come hot on the heels of Cryptoriana. Forced to stand on its own, however, Cradle of Filth’s thirteenth full-length offering suggests somewhat diminishing returns.
Existence is Futile comes out October 22 through Nuclear Blast.