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Let me tell you, I am not a COF fanboy. I hated Damnation and a Day (my friend burned it for me) and I found Midian to be crushing at times, and annoying at others. I heard Nymphetemine once and never listened to it again.
On to the review. This album shows influence of Emperor more than any other release by this band. The production is surprisingly like the production on In The Nightside Eclipse and has a very soft but firm feeling to it. The drums don't have that annoying clicking sound to them, and the guitars mesh together to form heaven. While almost all their other releases are very extreme gothic metal, this one, I'll have to say, is romantic black metal. It has a fair amount of blastbeats (although their other releases do also) but this one also has a very cold and haunting atmosphere, coupled with a dark, nocturnal performance and vocals that, for once, aren't silly. On all of their other releases (with the exception of The Principle of Evil Made Flesh and quite possibly Vempire) Dani does these annoying low pitched growls, as if he's trying to do an imitation of Gothenburg crap like At The Gates or In Flames. The bass is audible, and for once, without making the mix sound like shitty nu metal. It has a soft touch to it, and doesn't have that mallcore sound that all of the other bands where the bass is audible (well, there are a few exceptions.)
The songs are often very drawn out, and aren't as rushed as their other releases. While not being quite so depressing and pessimistic as Burzum, per se, they are dark and quite eloquent. Instead of latching on to the black metal notion that everything has to be either br00tal and fast or minimalistic, pessimistic, and nihilistic, or quite possibly both (did I forget repetitive?), Cradle of Filth creates an absolutely wonderful oratory, with music that's equally wonderfully voiced. Instead of the almost jokingly gothic lyrics of their later years, Dani is quite serious here. He talks of beauty, seduction, and apocolyptic battles of epic quantity. No tongue in cheek stuff here. In addition, when I got the CD, I noticed all the ridiculous face paint and shit was gone, and Dani wasn't making all of those ridiculous faces or poses. I know image is irrelevant (I wish more metallers would realize that), but it's so much easier to take him seriously, when the makeup is kept to a minimum. In fact, Dani's face isn't plastered everywhere (symbolic of the fact that he isn't singing all the time?) and the bandmembers all have a serious, solemn, look on their faces. None of that homoerotic tonguework or laughable faces. And, Dani doesn't have those ridiculous vampire teeth on this album. God, I was getting sick of those. (btw, these pics aren't available on their website. I wonder why...)
Back to the music. The album begins (as always) with an instrumental. And unlike all their other releases (with the exception of thier debut) the instrumental isn't overproduced. It doesn't sound like somebody has a backing orchestra behind the band. And it leads into the second song (with some fire sounds and thunder crackling) which begins with an Iron Maidenesque riff. Now, the Iron Maiden influence has been way overplayed. This song sounds more like a healthy mix of Emperor's In The Nightside Eclipse and Dimmu Borgir's For All Tid. The drums start of slow, then go to mid-paced, then cut the bullshit and go all out fast blastbeats. In the middle, there's a keyboard interlude with just drums and bass behind it (no guitar) and the song builds up again with increasing strength. Most of the songs (more or less) follow this pattern (with the exception of Malice Through The Looking Glass, Haunted Shores, and Beauty Slept In Sodom), which isn't a bad thing. The songs transfer seamlessly, so while you can tell there's a new song, it isn't abrupt or choppy. The instrumental in the middle, Graveyard By Moonlight, is a really beautiful intro to Beauty Slept in Sodom, which makes an absolutely wonderful epic ending. Haunted Shores, I thought, should have been combined with Beauty Slept in Sodom, since most of the song is not quite as good as the rest of the album. (Maybe begin the song with Beauty Slept In Sodom's beginning, then have the good parts of Haunted Shores, then have Cronos speak, then have the ending from Beauty Slept in Sodom.)
Anyways, this is an awesome album, Cradle's best, and don't let the other reviews fool you. This is the closest they got to black metal, and left me stupefyed. The only thing is, listen with an open mind, and listen several times. You will only appreciate its magnitude the second or third time. Reccommended to old Emperor fans, Old Dimmu Borgir Fans, and Dissection (oddly enough) fans.