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This is one of my favorite Cradle releases, but first things first; this production is awful! It's overly muffled and cloudy, with very vague separation in the mix between the instruments. The guitar tone is too thin, the bass is too soft, and the drums are swamped--you can't hear Nick's crazed pounding as well as you'd like to. This deletes major pointage, as I ike to hear what a band is doing on a record, and means I hate most black metal "production", as it always sounds like shit 9 times out of 10. I digress...
After the usual symphonics keyboard intro which fades into the sound of flames crackling, the very Iron Maiden-sounding intro riff of "Heaven Torn Asunder" ushers you into Hammer Horror-ville, and a very Maiden-sounding verse until it goes into more of a speed metal feel, until the blast beats kick you in the ass and make you move. Their Maiden jones shows up most profoundly here. The classic "Funeral In Carpathia" follows this opening ass-reaming up and makes it hurt with its high speed and relentless approach--Nick's drumming is particularly OTT here.
This album actually features one of Cradle's highlights coming to the fore and really making its presence known; their expert melding of Gothic/symphonic parts with vicious blackened metal blazing a path through the mediocrity, and it works best on this album, with lots of feeling and passion making it a worthy listen. The female vocals are especially nice to hear, with their sweet harmonies contrasting Dani's familiar screeching, but the spoken female parts sound entirely too stiff and unconvincing--get *into* it, girlie! The maniacal shriek of female laughter following the declaration of "Portrait of the dead countess!!!" on "A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil's Whore)" will make you jump every time, though. That track is one of my favorites here, as well as the title track of course with its intense blast beats really making it feel like a neck and neck race to the finish. And "Haunted Shores", with its inspirational war speech from the legendary Cronos, makes a lethal impression with its blazing riffs and headlong thrashing/blasting where you can actually hear how fast Nick's kick drums are going for once on the album. A meisterwerk, this album is, despite its weak production, and I recommend it to anybody getting into Cradle for the first time, alongside "Vempire", of course.