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Cradle of Filth have been around for going on sixteen years now (one of the older metal bands I enjoy), and with Thornography it's becoming evident that they are quickly running out of ideas. Although this one did start off on a great note with the first track.
One thing I think drags this album down is the lack of a permanent keyboardist. Martin Powell is a hard act to follow, and while I'm sure Rosie is skilled, her parts didn't have the power that Martin's did. Keyboards have been a very strong part of this band's history, and he provided several horror-style and classic motifs that the band could build the rest of the music on. The relatively new guitarist, Charles Hedger, might be another factor since he hasn't had too much time to meld with the band and understand who they are (or were). With James on the last album, though, he was in the band for a year before Nymphetamine came out and went with them on the Damnation and a Day tour. And it shows, Nymphetamine was a solid album in my opinion.
Now on to what music we do have. This album continues in the Nymphetamine style of juxtaposing the band's gothic metal with another genre. Whereas Nymphetamine was more modern rock-based, Thornography uses more punk and thrash elements. And while this may seem better on paper, it isn't executed very well. The riffs are pretty repetitive, uninspired, contrived at times, and overall weak. This band has used punk-influenced riffs before, but they aren't convincing or enjoyable this time around. When the guitars go into lead-mode, though, it's usually pretty good although nothing new in terms of melodies. The solos don't stand out much either. Without the strong keyboard backing, it sounds like the guitars are floundering on their own. The trademark abrasiveness and rhythmic complexity is also gone, so the songs don't have much of a feel to them. And while we're on the subject of uninspired, the drum performance was the most lackluster I've heard from this band.
There are a few experiments to note on this album, with Byronic Man being the first. Ville Valo of HIM actually does a great job on that song (I know many people in the metal community cringed when they heard he would be here). While I can't stand HIM, Ville's voice is pretty well-suited for gothic/atmospheric music and his tone (when he uses his lower ranges) is very enjoyable. The concept of characters being voiced by guests is one that I'd like to see Cradle look more into as it's very intriguing for me. Maybe if the newbies work with the band more and everybody works very hard musically we can get some kind of gothic metal version of The Human Equation. It would be the perfect comeback after this album, Dani!
The next experiment is Dani singing. That's right, Dani Filth doing clean vocals. And while I'm glad he can actually sing, but I'm also underwhelmed. It's clear and has decent strength, but he sounds like some punk vocalist. I don't think this works with the general idea of Cradle of Filth at all, and I'd rather that he concentrates on getting his harsh vocals back to the Damnation of a Day or even Nymphetamine level. His higher vocals sound more throaty and it's like he's lost something, maybe range or strength or something.
Right after we hear Dani belt out sing-along choruses, Rise of the Pentagram comes up. This is the first band instrumental done by Cradle of Filth, and it's pretty good. I'd on a musical level this is the best track here. Good guitar play and good keyboard parts. The intro narration was a tad ridiculous and sounded forced, though.
The last experiment comes in the form of the last song, Cradle's cover of Heaven 17's Temptation. A very peculiar song choice for this band, and it comes off as weird and out-of-place on the album. The cover itself is pretty enjoyable, but I never want to hear synths in a Cradle of Filth song again. I prefer their classical keyboard instrumentation much more.
This album is kind of like Cruelty and the Beast, Part 2 in that both albums are transitional and awkward at times. But Cruelty and the Beast had great moments and glimpses of how good the albums after would be; Thornography offers no such hope. I'm sure that the future albums will be better as the newbies gain more experience and improve, but hopefully the band will get back on track musically. Thornography is a weak album overall, but it has its moments. As long as they don't continue in that direction, they'll be fine. But if they are truly out of ideas, maybe it's time to throw in the towel. Only time will tell what the outcome of this album will be.