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Often the subject of debate, CoF's 2003 album had many fans, old-school or otherwise, crying foul while the ones who never liked the band in the first place held their opinions firm. Along with Dimmu Borgir's "Death Cult Armageddon," this was one of the most anticipated and critisized albums of 2003. The media placed unbelievable hype around it. So, does it live up to the hype, and furthermore, is it a good album?
Well, though the album is successful on many levels, it suffers from one thing: overambition. Everything is so blown out of proportion here that it's amost like arena rock in its scope. The production is absurdly clean, but considering that a large orchestra was used here, that was pretty much required. Guitars used a polished and ear-friendly tone while maintaining the low end needed for the band's palm-muted riffs, Adrian's drums are meticulously miked to make every stroke of every drum audible, and even the bass comes out front at a few points. This is a slightly refreshing change from the slightly muddled or ear-straining sound of albums like Midian, but also takes the balls right out of the music. Many of the best metal moments are washed out with dense choirs or full string sections, or are layered with endless sound effects. In the end, it comes off as a bit too digestible. The band spent too much time in the studio fucking around with what could be added to music, without realizing what was too much.
On the upside, this is one hell of a heavy metal album. A bit long-winded, yes; but the band offer up great performances on all fronts, and although Dani's lyrics take a near-biblical slant, lyrics from "Better to Reign in Hell" and "Babalon A.D." are some of the best he's written. Paul's guitar riffs have definitely taken a backset to the orchestra on this album, and aside from the occasional lead, most of the guitar work conists of powerful, driving tremolo picking or power chords; the band's long-time flirtations with keyboards come full swing here, and it's clear to see that tons of time was spent working out the orchestra parts in conjunction with the songs, and also the numerous interludes that divide the album into its respectable "chapters."
Here's the thing, though; while most metal bands that flirt with symphonic nature base the symphony around the metal, it seems to be the exact opposite in this scenario. It seems like the songs were written to revolve around the orchestra instead of vice versa. Only every now and then are the band allowed to come out in their full fury, such as the beginning of "An Enemy Led the Tempest." Otherwise, the band seem rather restrained here. Regardless of the restraint, "Hurt and Virtue" features incredible guitars and double bass work, and "End of Daze" proves to be one of the band's most ripping tracks they've composed.
Dani offers some slightly more ear-pleasing vocals here, and his performance is easily better than anything seen on "Midian." The lyrics prove to be one of the high points of the album. Rather than the usual dark romance/Goth/horror niche, Dani undertakes a huge role as narrator of the rise and fall of man in the garden of Eden. It's best described as Paradise Lost gone totally wrong, but it works well within the context of the music. "Mannequin" is the only clear exception to this, and seems to relate back to the famous "Her Ghost in the Fog."
The orchestra plays a major role in the album; so major, in fact, that this album would be a total flop without it. It does bring power out at most points, such as the opening track "The Promise of Fever" or the slightly tranquil "Serpent Tongue." But there are many instances where it all is simply too much; the metal isn't given enough room to breathe, and as a result, the album falls flat on its face at some points..
Despite the numerous problems, there still manage to be some stellar moments. "Hurt and Virtue," "An Enemy Led the Tempest," "Better to Reign in Hell," and "Mannequin," among a few other cuts, manage to be some of the best songs the band have composed. The band still pull through in their own special way, and prove that after all these years, Sony be damned, they can still bust out the goods.