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Until recently, CoF were one of my favorite bands, an act that, were one a fan, one could always count on for quality material. They had a sound that they owned, and a way with composition that never seemed to fail. Things began to go awry on Damnation and a Day, which was an interesting record, in that the band made motions towards going outside the box a bit on some tracks, while on others it seemed to revert to an earlier sound based more on riffs than compositional dynamics (the latter had been the band's strong point for years at that juncture; does anyone really listen to Cruelty and Beast for the riffs in and of themselves?). The followup, Nymphetamine, while not awful, was worrisome. The return to a more basic sound made sense (they couldn't possibly outdo DaaD for bombasticity), but the large majority of the tracks were reminiscent of DaaD's weaker songs, relying solely on what I assume were meant to be catch y riffs, as opposed to any actual songwriting. Nemesis was a prime example, boasting two nice riffs but ultimately going absolutely nowhere after plodding along for nearly seven minutes.
That brings us to the band's latest effort, which completes the regression that began on the last two records (see the title of this review). Thornography is more reminiscent of The Principle of Evil Made Flesh than anything the band has done in the meantime, and replaces it as CoF's weakest record, bar none. The comparison is apt for two reasons. First, there is the fact that the emphasis is solely on the riffing, which Dani has described as thrashy. Much of the riffing does have a classic thrash bent to it, but it's nothing that hasn't been done to death by countless actual thrash bands, and the brighter feel to it doesn't work within the band's sound at all. The riffing and the keyboards alternatively sound completely out of place (as an aside, with Martin gone by the wayside, I'm not even sure who exactly is providing the keys). Further, I'm pretty much convinced at this point that Gian was the man with the riffs back in the day, and that the best material on DaaD was mined from his leftovers. Writing seemingly on his own since Gian's departure (assuming short-termer James and new guy Charles contribute nothing), Paul Allender is completely out of his league, almost blatantly recycling older material.
The second, and perhaps more important reason the record is so reminiscent of the band's debut, is Dani himself, who is unrecognizable for a good ninety percent of the record (unless, of course, one owns TPoEMF). With the exception of Under Huntress Moon, his high shriek, which made him instantly recognizable, is gone. The vocals, almost all of which are of the mid-range or lower variety, could quit literally be any of dozens and dozens of "extreme" vocalists. He has no power, and no passion. Anyone with half a brain realizes how tongue in cheek CoF have always been, but Dani's talent in the past was that he was a master storyteller, making the listener believe, for six-minute intervals, that he was living and breathing this stuff. That Dani is gone, replaced by a guy who is very clearly going through the motions. Even his accenting screams and croaks are weak; one almost has to wonder if he's lost his voice over the years. "Croaking" is also a good description of the vocals on many of the choruses, which (disturbingly) approach an attempt at clean singing. There are tracks (see The Foetus of a New Day Kicking) on which, if one imagines the choruses as being presented in the old shriek, one can see the potential. Sadly, that potential is never reached. It's a bad day for CoF when the best track on a disc is an instrumental (Rise of the Pentagram).
In sum, I literally do not have a single positive thing to say about this record, other than that, like TPoEMF, it may make good fodder for another Bitter Suites years from now (i.e. an EP on which the band turns former garbage into gold). For the present, though, it seems there isn't much left in the tank for this band, if anything at all.