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Review originally published at www.teethofthedivine.com by Erik Thomas
Nuclear Blast has to be happy: The last couple of months have seen the label release new albums from Enslaved, Dimmu Borgir and now, Cradle of Filth. Three of black metal’s forefathers in the early ’90s, now grown and developed far beyond their roots into metal’s biggest acts ― regardless of what genre you lump them in now. To have secured the latest releases from Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth alone, is a coup in itself. Not only are both bands two of the most polarizing bands around, but because of that very divisive nature, respective releases from both bands command attention from fans and the media regardless.
Personally, to these ears, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth have always been somewhat linked. They both saw their meteriotc rise, style changes and the subsequent backlash at around the same time, as both acts tried to outmatch one another in imagery and presentation. While a horde of new fans appeared, the actual music seemed to take a backseat. With that being said, both acts have weathered their respective storms and are now two of the biggest ‘extreme’ metal acts on the planet. Like it or not.
So, with yet another label and another lineup tweak, Cradle of Filth return with a new foray into a female based concept album and the formula―akin to Cruelty and the Beast―appears to be a winner. Where last year’s God Speed on the Devil’s Thunder saw the band vastly improve from the rather dire Goth thrash of Thornography, Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa sees the band improve again (album artwork included), this time using the concept of the original woman scorned, Lilith, as the backdrop.
Whether it’s the addition of keyboardist Ashley Ellyllon/Jurgemeyer, who after slogging away in US-based Dimmu/Cradle wannabees Abigail Williams, is now perfectly placed in Cradle of Filth. Or perhaps it’s the new guitarist James Mcllroy? Or simply the subject matter! Cradle of Filth haven’t been this sensually epic and scathing since the aforementioned Cruelty and the Beast. And while comparisons to Dimmu Borgir’s recent opus will be abound, rightfully so I might add (with the addition of a small choir to the proceedings), Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa is the slightly superior album.
While Dimmu Borgir’s Abrahadabra―which I enjoyed―has a controlled but lavish, mid-tempo pace, backed by a full orchestra, Cradle of Filth’s concept is rendered with a much more intimate, feverish and furtively blistering tone. Armed with a sturdy Scott Atkins (Sylosis, Ignominious Incarceration, Man Must Die) production and more blast beats than they’ve had in nearly a decade―which are now, with Ellyllon’s synths, as menacingly grandiose and sweeping as said era―the album drips with a carnal but dangerous energy and urgency that can only be called Cradle of Filth.
Quite simply, the opening trio of “The Cult of Venus Aversa”, personal favorite “One Foul Step From the Abyss”, and “The Nun with the Astral Habit” are as good asset of tracks as the band has ever penned. Virile, symphonic, yet rooted in black and thrash metal, the tracks heave and writhe with tangible sense of vengeful sexuality befitting of Lilith. And of course Dani Filth is in a fine form, reveling in the subject matter’s innate carnality with his croaks, screeching, hissing, rasping and overly dramatic prose and delivery: “A stunning woman, summoned, coming scimitar-curved, Statuesque, but living flesh, Draping nakedness about their pagan saviours, She came Lilith, a perfect myth, The scarlet whore, Skinned in magnificence, In her defense, She only slew a few of them”. However, he is aided by the choir and various female voices (though notably missing Sara Jezebel Diva who I thought would have been perfect for this album’s concept).
“Retreat of the Sacred Heart” continues the pace, but injects a classic haunting, CoF melody line/solo―not heard in many albums―into the more thrash-based attack. “The Percussion Song” finally takes the foot off the throttle for a mid-paced chug akin to Nymphetamine’s languid title track. The foot comes slamming back down for the pummeling “Deceiving Eyes”, which is as directly heavy and guitar/riff based as I’ve ever heard the band ― even with its expected symphonic trappings. At one point during another favorite, “Lilith Immaculate”, it hit me how good this iteration of CoF is, as the female vocals and a repeating symphonic bridge displays an upbeat and strangely alluring, melodic atmosphere that shows a side of the band I have not heard before. I think Ms. Ellyllon/Jurgemeyer is mostly responsible (vocally and keyboard-wise) for that.
Admittedly though, partly due to the album’s hour plus run time, as the album gets to “The Spawn of Love” and “Harlot on a Pedestal” its best parts appear to have passed. Though closer “Beyond the Eleventh Hour” is a classic CoF bookend track. It’s unfortunate that the single/video released from this album was “Forgive me Father (I Have Sinned)”, because as I feared, it’s easily the album’s worst cut. Even the four bonus tracks (usually piecemeal, subpar tracks or lame covers) tacked on to the additional CD are better, with “Beast of Extermination” and “Truth & Agony” being particularly impressive.
Of course, haters will still hate and recoil at the band’s imagery, popularity and (the suddenly Nick Barker -sized) Dani Filth’s delivery. I personally haven’t been truly excited about Cradle of Filth in many years, but Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa has accomplished in just that! Not only has it made me go back and listen to the likes of “Queen, of Winter Throned”, “Haunted Shores” and “The Forest Whispers My Name” on repeat occasions, but it’s also made me recall how really good these guys were at their peak and how good they still can be when they choose so.