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We know ‘em, we love/hate ‘em, and it seems we gotta live with ‘em…the mighty Cradle of Filth. A more reviled, deified, and overtly controversial group has yet to come from the primordial ooze of metallic devolution. For what it’s worth, I’ve always had a lot of respect for Cradle of Filth, mainly in that they do what they want but can still maintain that level of dignity and skill that has made almost all their albums great listens (I say ALMOST, as their track record is a little less than perfect…lest we forget the lamentable “Thornography”…). Regardless on how you look at their specific genre or standing in popularity, there’s no denying that CoF are here to stay and will continue plying their wares whether you like it or not.
And to that end, I took to this new album with winged feet…
To be honest, I was a bit dyspeptic going in…”Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder” was such an awesome clusterfuck of an album that I worried that whatever would succeed it wouldn’t have that level of musical monstrousness and, let’s face it, with CoF that’s been the case more than once; the dark and visceral “Cruelty and the Beast” being followed by the tame and lame “Midian”, which in turn was followed by the even more anemic “Bitter Suites to Succubi”…the devastatingly violent “Damnation and a Day” suffering a two-handed fall from grace, both the minimal (the streamlined but still enjoyable “Nymphetamine”) and the cancerous (the aforementioned lamentably bad “Thornography”). But still, I carried on, with bright hopes that whatever would come after “Godspeed…” would at least be able to mirror its predecessor’s intensity and fistfuls of great ideas. And I was proven wholly right. “Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa” is, without a doubt, Cradle of Filth’s most cohesive album in years, where each song actually feels like it fits in the greater scheme of things versus the patchwork feel of albums prior. Which proves a point I’ve been telling people; COF do their best work with concept albums. Like “Godspeed” before it, “Venus Aversa” combines the modern-day guitar riff work with very old-school, “Dusk”-era keyboard lines that couple the now-fully Gothic beauty and barbaric brutality that’s been the Filthy way of life lo these many years into two fists of metallic aggression that more than satisfies. The general feel of the music has a very eerie and gloomy appeal, like if King Diamond and Danny Elfman wrote a soundtrack and gave it to a black metal band to record, which definitely fits the concept (the demon angel Lilith in this day and age) rather nicely. For the first time in years, it sounds as though most of the central arrangements are based on the keyboards lines versus the riffs, which has always worked best for the band, the way I see it; Miss Ellyllon’s key fingerings are quite impressive, giving the music more depth than one has heard from the group in some time now, and the performance is again energetic, lively, and filled to the brim with symphonic goodness. On the other side of the coin, the guitar/bass riffing and drum work are just as punchy and chaotic as before, loaded with slicing distortion and rapid-fire blasting, all the while not dominating the overall sound, thankfully; once they started putting the guitars in the forefront that unholy magic ended up suffering for it. Such is not the case this time around. Even Dani’s vocals sound more stage-left than one would be used to, and as well, his performance is quite different; leaving most of his screecher comforts behind, he instead employs a mid-ranged gravelly/raspy narration which is probably a lot less hellish on his vocal chords, but still works given the musical approach. But the biggest pisser is the bland, plastic-sounding female singing, which leaves a bitter twinge on this listener’s lips. I’m not sure who it was who did such a vile deed, but her voice, which reminds me of Helena Bonham Carter with a touch less insufferableness, only serves to distract rather than go with the flow. Thankfully, though, she’s not utilized as often, so one can continue to enjoy the disc unabated, where the madness of the heavier likes of “The Cult of Venus Aversa” and “Retreat of the Sacred Heart” meet the creepy, slower dirges of “The Persecution Song” and “Forgive Me Father (For I Have Sinned)” in a track-by-track entry into blackened metallic wonderment.
In the end, “Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa” blew me away in terms of it being able to capitalize on “Godspeed’s” sleeper-hit appeal. It goes to show that one shouldn’t count out an extreme metal veteran who’s strayed a bit from the path, as chances are they’re simply biding their time until they can spring back with both horns raised. And this is the best example yet. Highly recommended.