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When this was released in 2004, the band itself claimed it to be a return to form; with the overblown arena-rock ambition of DaaD out of the way, CoF could really get back to business on their signature sound. There was a huge catch to this, however: the band had moved from Sony to Roadrunner. Regardless of the antics behind the label switch, the change to the often-loathed record label showed through in its own weird ways in the music. Not only did the band re-issue this album a few months after the initial release, but the album's title track had been trimmed down for a "single edit." (Ironically, Opeth did the same thing; and of course, those bands are labelmates.) Now, the question remains: Is this really CoF at work, or Roadrunner?
Nymphetamine does show a slight return to form for the band; symphonies are absent, sans the keyboards. Paul and James play some actual leads here, and even some solos on songs like "Filthy Little Secret." Dani's lyrics, albeit a bit more digestible than former works, do kind of hearken back to the "vampires and romance" themes. Don't expect to see anything from "Dusk...", though. Though the band have reverted back to a more savage sound in a roundabout way, things in the songwriting department and production are decidedly more ear-friendly. The construction of the songs follow the rigid, narrative structures that the band are known for; if a comparison was to be made, I would have to say that, roughly, Nymphetamine bears a few close resemblances to Midian. But, like the band's signing to Roadrunner, there's a loophole. Sure, the guitar harmonies are back, and the keyboards do a fine job, but the band choose to utilize a more thrash/rock influence. This works well in some places, such as "Gabrielle", which does an excellent job of melding a melodic, gothic sound with something darker; but the beginning riffs of "Filthy Little Secret" and "Gilded Cunt" will raise a few eyebrows. Some moments on the album seem more remotely "bouncy" than what one would expect. There are countless passages driven by power chords here, which does make for some "brutal" moments, but sometimes falls flat on its face. This aspect of the band's sound would come full swing on Thornography.
That being said, Nymphetamine contains some great songs. "Absinthe With Faust" recalls the melodicism of the band's older works, and the full version of the title track, although a bit cheesy, illustrates the "beauty and the beast" theme clearly enough. "Medusa and Hemlock," though one of the weaker tracks here, has gone on to be a classic in the band's newer material. "Coffin Fodder" switches gears between Maiden-esque leads, thrashy verses, and slower moments that recall some of DaaD's more subtle heaviness. "Mother of Abominations" is another great one, and proves that not even a few cover songs and singles can tame the band's impeccable songwriting.
I have a few qualms, though: "English Fire" is a fucking joke. Not only is it uninteresting and plodding, but it actually sees CoF try to move into accessible territory while simultaneously blending the most watered-down aspects of the band's sound into a blender. It simply can't be done: the keyboards sound waltzy and even happy at some points. To further this, the vocals and lyrics really aren't that great.
The band as a whole succeed, though. Dani sounds a little better here, and doesn't layer the vocals as much. Adrian has more chance to shine through here, and he does exactly that on "Mother of Abominations" and "Filthy Little Secret." Everything is aided by a thick, clear production, and thankfully, the band don't go overboard with interludes, spoken word passages, or too much cheesiness.
Nymphetamine is certainly a weird one, just like the majority of CoF's other works. It succeeds and fails on some levels, but somehow the band manage to keep us interested. Newcomers to the band will probably appreciate this album the most for its more ear-friendly moments, while those of us who have been around for a while will be left scratching our heads in wonder and confusion.