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Me and Cradle go back a way. Years ago my brother introduced me to this fun little song called 'Gilded Cunt', and together we chomped our way through an inconsistent but at the time rewarding back catalogue including still awesome songs such as 'Funeral in Carpathia' and 'Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids.' In the words of Noel Fielding's goth character Richmond on The IT Crowd, "I tell you, it was good having the Filth to come home too after another hard day."
Anyway, on this album Cradle shocked me by ditching the orchestras, the gothic sound and the slick production and recording an album of raw, fuzzy old school black metal mostly recorded in Dani Filth's bedroom with a tape recorder and featuring a guest appearance from Nattefrost. Nah, just kidding, it's super catchy and gothic with such lyrical flourishes as "cat got your tongue?" Not bad though. Although if you didn't like their output post-Midian don't bother. If you never liked them at all you're just reading for entertainment so be m'guest.
Godspeed On The Devil's Thunder was a good listen, but struck me as being conceptually similiar to Thornography's expansion pack Harder, Darker, Faster. That is to say, it was a knee-jerk reaction to the poor reception to Thornography that manifested as an immediate acceleration back into blastbeat-laden lengthy songs and elaborate storytelling. With Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa, the band's most gayest-named album, Dani seems to have regained his confidence enough to experiment again.
Darkly, Darkly is a fast paced extreme metal extravaganza with baroque strings colouring the whole thing. It's still about as far away from black metal as you get, but is still the most cohesive album they've probably ever done by dint of ditching the usual instrumental interludes that litter other Cradle albums. Doug Bradley is also absent for a change, which is a shame. I like that guy. Apparently they're remaking Hellraiser. Bet it won't be any good though. Replacing Dougy is Cradle's latest lady narrator, keyboardist and backing singer Ashley Ellyllon, who apes the style of Sara Jezebel Deva while possessing neither the continent-sized bosom or lascivious morbidity to pull it off.
A lot more gets done with the guitars here. Whereas Godspeed was predominantly whirring and chugging, this album sees Paul Allender breaking off all sorts of melodic leads, breakdowns and jarring chords that keep things interesting. Take the lead single 'Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)' - it's totally commercial, catchy, rocking gothic metal, but the guitars are out of this world, climaxing in a series of classic metal solos. 'Church of the Sacred Heart' is a highlight, heavy breaks heaving into buzzing death metal riffs and the usual menacing leads. Album closer official 'Beyond Eleventh Hour' has some extremely convincing tense leads in the vein of Illnath, while the dramatic 'The Persecution Song' pays tribute to 'Nymphetamine' and 'The Death of Love' with its mournful, chugging motif. Turns out they can still do those twisting, tortured guitar lines in the vein of Cruelty and the Beast, on 'The Spawn of Love and War' and bonus track 'Beast of Extermination.' The serpentine riffs and creaking strings of 'Harlot on a Pedestal' make for another unashamedly gothic moment that stays just about blackened on the edges. While it doesn't have really striking standout tracks like most previous albums, Allender's guitar work and Dani's (slightly) more restrained songwriting make it work as an enjoyable concept and piece of music.
Meanwhile the drums, rhythm guitars, bass, strings and pretty much everything else are as on Godspeed - functional instrumentation that keeps the songs thundering along in typical style, jumping orchestral maneuvers (Cradle would probably call them "orchestral maneuvers in the dark" or something), on-point triggered drum pacing from Martin Škaroupka, and so on. They're all capable musicians these guys, and Dani's latest tapestry of indulgent, expensive chaos channels their collective talents into a far more focused and effective draught than in the last few years. The rousing symphonic beat of 'Lilith Immaculate' is a good indicator - a hell of a lot simpler than previous releases (excepting Thornography) but full of adrenalin, catchy and polished.
Dani is the one who falters - he can still whip out a harrowing shriek or a ghoulish growl if he really tries, but sings the majority of the album in a half-arsed croak, at points seeming as if he's just muttering in a funny voice (although it probably still takes a fair amount of effort to create the sinister vocals). You'll find yourself listening to the album for the backing tracks, and Dani ends up relegated to complimenting them, which is a bit sad considering his striking yelps used to be the icing on the Filthy cake - a track like opener 'The Cult of Venus Aversa' and its aggressive peaks could have been that much better with the larynx-rending yowls he peppered early material with. His lyrics aren't as smart-arsed and poetic as once they were either. Perhaps he hasn't been reading so much lately, although titles like 'The Nun with the Astral Habit' and 'Mistress From the Sucking Pit' are fairly hilarious. Eventually they'll do a song called 'One Thousand Facials in the Crypt of Satanic Porno.'
Overall it's worth a listen if you like Cradle of Filth. It was never going to be anything else anyway. It won't win over those who see them as a sold-out, talentless bunch of hacks, and it won't alienate anyone who stuck around through the last ten years. It includes the now obligatory bonus disc, and they've now decided to just make this an epilogue to the album, so the tracks are in the same style and basically of the same quality - which makes good value for money. I think of Cradle in the same terms I do Dimmu Borgir, I've never been caught up in extreme hate or extreme devotion for either band, but this year Dimmu melted down while Cradle seem to be capably cruising along doing their thing. Despite the progression in originality and daring here I can't decide whether this or Godspeed is a better album, but both are better than Thorno and make decent sequels to Nymphetamine's better moments via Midian.