Roughly 240 full moons ago, as I was enjoying a double bill of Bile and Crowbar in a small club just within the New York City limits, I was instructed to check out a band that was described as “the KISS of Black metal” by a music record company promoter known to me only as “Chainsaw.” Up until that time, I was vaguely familiar with black metal and was not really impressed. Cradle of Filth would quickly change this appreciation.
Now, 11 full length albums, 1 (ahem) horror movie (Cradle of Fear, anyone?), several EPs, and numerous miscellaneous recordings later, Cradle of Filth have released “Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay.” I was excited to be subjected to Cradle’s new sounds as I had been pleasantly surprised by “Hammer of the Witches” and after being let down by “Manticore.” I had begun to wonder if the wicked wordsmithery of Dani Filth was running out of Satanic steam. I need not fear.
“Cryptoriana” opens with “Exquisite Torments Await” which, like most Cradle introductions, has the trademark Dani Filth shriek, which descends upon the ears like a hawk’s cry as it targets a vole for a meal. It is not long before the album steps off into the usual abyssal territory that Cradle is known for. The next song, “Heartbreak and Séance,” offers a deceptively languid and mournful respite – but only for 26 seconds before tearing into a midpaced (by Cradle standards, mind you) and tightly wound, Gothic tale of loss.
After a brief use of harpsichord to lead to the next song, the poetic lyricism of “Achingly Beautiful” is contrasted by the sheer brutal urgency of the blastbeats and the vocal delivery. It is as if Dani is offering the listener a warning to not follow his missteps. Midway through the song, the listener is given an introspective moment, measured by a choral interlude prior to the climactic conclusion. In “Wester Vespertine” we hear some old ripping Cradle guitar riffs with some sweeping synths backing Dani’s deviant descriptors about a place of ritualistic offerings.
If you had been not fully consumed by this offering of Cradle’s by this point, I would expect that the next song would renew your faith in them. “The Seductiveness of Decay” starts off like a dirge (or a slower Dio-era Sabbath song), like something monstrous waiting in the shadows watching for the opportunity to pounce. About 40 seconds in (yes, once again I counted them), pounces it does. Yet, one could imagine that this attack misses its intended victim and then the chase is on. It is at this pivotal moment, Cradle get their Iron Maiden trample on. It strikes me that one of the over looked characteristics of Cradle of Filth is the accomplished means by which the band members can evoke different styles to capture the mood of the song. In my opinion, this is the best song on the album. It is not hard to visualize that I am being chased through Victorian London by some supernatural beastie (and being a panicked tourist, getting far too easily lost, and ending up as the beasie’s meal).
The dexterity that Cradle displays with the dynamic range of dramatic elements is fully on display in “Vengeful Spirit.” The centerpiece is Lindsay Schoolcraft’s vocals which pin the song in its tale of woe and act as a counter point to Dani’s decrepit despair. I suspect that “You Will Know the Lion By Its Claw” will stand as the only black metal song written about (in my poor estimation) a safari venture gone wrong. Quite possibly, it is more allegorical than my simple understanding. Whatever the case maybe, it is another excellent example of how well Cradle can construct a destructive tale across the blast beat and ripping guitars.
The album proper ends with, what is my next favorite song, “Death and the Maiden.” This song recounts in Cradle’s (and Dani’s) dark fascination the ever eternal tale of Persephone and Hades. This song captures the tragic elements of this superstitious understanding of the seasonal change from vibrant summer to the colder and bleaker winter. Once again, Lindsay Schoolcraft’s vocals play up against Dani’s to portray the dynamic between these two mythic figures.
Sometimes, bonus tracks will justify their absence from a full length album. The bonus tracks on “Cryptoriana,” “The Night At Catafalque Manor” and “Alison Hell,” are worthy to be included and in no way detract from the album. “The Night…” recounts a demonic tryst while attending a ball and is almost classic in its execution (think “Cruelty and the Beast” era Cradle – with better production). Then we have the cover of “Allison Hell.” Cradle’s cover of this late Eighties thrasher is so good and engaging that it made me dust off my two of my favorite Annihilator albums (“Alison In Hell” and “Never, Neverland”) to revisit them and transport myself back in time.
I’ve been a fan of Cradle since they were introduced to the States with “Dusk and Her Embrace.” I’ve enjoyed (and been enviously inspired by) Dani Filth’s eloquence and ability to add a sense of humor via darkened puns to black metal’s over the top posturing and self-absorption. As a fan, I’ve track their ups and downs and revolving door line up changes. Despite this, Cradle of Filth continue to create darkly imaginative operettas that transport the listener to liminal edges of existence. “Cryptoriana” is a demonstration that, as long as Dani Filth is possessed to do so, Cradle of Filth will continue to thrive and gift us with blackened decadence in sonic form.