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Ever since 2008, Cradle of Filth have had an existential crisis of identity and inspiration. One year after two adequate studio albums of similar musical and thematic concepts, they dropped an EP of remixes. While harmless but not particularly necessary, this was followed a year later by their worst release yet: a misguided orchestral double album of reworked songs from their own catalogue. Each year saw a more disappointing release than the last, and some were claiming that it was time for Cradle to call it a day. Six months after the orchestral Midnight in the Labyrinth, we arrive at The Manticore And Other Horrors, a straightforward concept album revolving around monsters and creatures from various mythologies. For starters, this theme ends up being more flexible than their previous concepts, which has at times been revolved around a controversial figure in medieval times with fantastical and horrific embellishments. The shocking imagery and lyrical content of earlier releases has been streamlined in favor of a more generalized focus on lore and mythological themes. The Manticore… serves as a significant improvement after a strange run of releases, increasing the black metal influences and relying less on keyboards and Dani Filth’s trademark vocals.
For the third album in a row, drummer Martin Skaroupka serves as the rhythmic backbone of the band by filling each track with thunderous blast beats and furious fills. He has been a band highlight since his joining in 2006, and his performance on The Manticore… is no exception. The guitars showcase an increased black metal sound, tremolo picking and death metal guitar riffs showcased throughout. Despite the decreased accessibility, the soaring gothic melodies are still present, particularly in “Frost on her Pillow.” While 2010s Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa abandoned their trend of standalone instrumental interludes, Cradle resurrect them here as subtle atmospheric touches by placing one track at the beginning and one at the end. “The Unveiling of O” and “Sinfonia” are not so much sinister bridges to songs as they are an orchestral prologue and epilogue for The Manticore.... This allows for an uncompromising flow of shortened but furious extreme metal tracks with just the right amount of gothic atmospheric flourishes to accompany the intensity.
Dani Filth's vocals are at the forefront of each album, and he has been wisely toning down his role for a more consistent use of raspy yells and growls. He even brings back his singing style from Thornography, a welcome expansion of his vocals. This marks an overall increased use of melody, lush atmospheres, and symphonic textures that make the slower, moodier tracks the highlights. The aforementioned “Frost on her Pillow” serves as the gothic ballad to break up the intensity, and features the most of Filth’s clean singing voice. “Manticore” is a moody, driving rocker that could have come straight from Nymphetamine. “For Your Vulgar Delectation” features nasty punk-inspired guitar riffs and standout drumming from Skaroupka. “The Abhorrent” and “Siding With The Titans” are the fastest tracks the band has written in years, harking back to the speed demons of Midian.
An aura of mysticism pervades the mysterious and gothic soundscapes of The Manticore. The general concept allows for a more free and ambitious exploration of their themes than before, no longer hampered by a restricting album concept or parable. The reliance on symphonic elements and female vocals have been toned down to allow the music and atmosphere to breathe, and the grandiose symphonies are no longer so relied on. Cradle of Filth were coming dangerously close to become parodies of themselves. Albums were beginning to sound like a watered-down version of their own sound, and their bloated, meandering lengths made for exhausting and uneven listening experiences. These flaws are done away with, thanks to a resurgence in inspiration and welcome changes to their sound and imagery. They have a long way to go, but The Manticore is a major improvement, and shows that Cradle have plenty left to say.
(edited October 27th, 2015)