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A textbook example of artistic rebirth. - 90%

LycanthropeMoon, July 11th, 2018

Honestly, what can be said about Cradle of Filth that hasn't already been said? They're easily England's most famous extreme metal band, and one of the world's most divisive ones at that. Coming into prominence during the rise of second wave black metal, many trve kvlt warriors consider them to be sellouts due to their exponential increase in popularity after their debut The Principle of Evil Made Flesh. The more gothic vibe their music took on after that album certainly didn't help matters, nor did the fact that there were so many different Cradle of Filth shirts and merch items that it was almost as though they had their own gothy fashion line. It was clear COF had higher ambitions than simply being a cult underground act, which is perfectly fine as long as the music's played with conviction and competence. Their work up to and including Midian clearly had some genuine emotion and enthusiasm put into it, and their stage presence back in those days confirmed this fact. Whether you liked them or not, they clearly had a passion for what they were doing at the time. No, they weren't a black metal band (more of an extreme take on gothic metal), but they were good at what they did. They were unique, no one else quite sounded like them.

Then came EP Bitter Suites to Succubi. While it wasn't entirely awful, something about it just seemed off. The rerecordings of older songs didn't have quite the same atmosphere, the genuinely brand new songs weren't quite as innovative was what had come before. The lyrics weren't quite as vivid and brilliant as they used to be. The alarm bells started to ring. A couple years later came their one and only major label album, Damnation and a Day. While this album contained a few strong tracks such as Hurt and Virtue and Serpent Tongue, it was a chore to sit down and listen to all the way through. Despite hiring a full symphony orchestra, the symphonic aspect of their sound had been stripped down and the guitar work had become the focal point, though orchestration was certainly still present. This wouldn't have been a problem if the riffs were more interesting, but it felt like half the leads had suddenly vanished - likely due to the departure of Gian Pyres, leaving Paul Allender the sole axeman on that album. It also suffered from an overabundance of filler, and much the same can be said of Nymphetamine and the band's redheaded stepchild Thornography. Just what the hell had happened to the band that opened me up to extreme music? How did they get so boring? Even the so-called 'return to form' that was Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder (alongside its spiritual successor Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa and especially The Manticore and Other Horrors) lacked that black magic they'd had all through the 90s (and very early 2000s). Sure, they got "darker, harder and faster" again but Dani started sounding like a goddamn tea kettle that's been left on the stove for too long and Paul's songwriting had grown extraordinarily stale. Oh, and don't get me started on that tacky orchestral album. No, just...fucking no.

Then Paul Allender, the only original member aside from Dani himself, left. Keyboardist and female vocalist Lindsay Schoolcraft joined, alongside guitarists Ashok and Richard Shaw. This was a fundamental change, considering the fact that Paul handled the vast majority of the songwriting for the better part of a decade. Hell, there were a few folks on the now-defunct Cradle forum that blamed him for the band's downturn in quality, myself included. Since then, Martin Skaroupka (drummer since '06), Ashok and Richard have taken over the writing duties together. To the collective relief of fans everywhere, the resulting album Hammers of the Witches was a massive step back in the right direction. The album was filled to the brim with excellent guitar melodies and Dani's most feral, ferocious performance in many years. It was going to be a hard album to follow up. Luckily, they managed to succeed in doing this, and put an album out that's actually a step above its predecessor.

Cryptoriana starts off with a bang, intro track Exquisite Torments Await (a Hellraiser reference perhaps?) expertly setting the tone for what was coming next. Reminiscent of V Empire's Ebony Dressed for Sunset in some ways, it was a short, sharp burst of blackened energy. This leads directly into first single Heartbreak and Seance, which sounds like one of the better songs on Nymphetamine (think Coffin Fodder). The hook features some delightfully dreary sounding choirs, Dani's trademark screeches interwoven into them. While this song wasn't as immediately impressive as HOTW's Right Wing of the Garden Triptych as far as singles go, it slowly but surely grows on you - like some sort of malignant skin cancer, but one that you actually want to stick around (even if it kills you). Wester Vespertine is a goth-as-fuck kick to the teeth. It features some of the most massive riffs on the whole record, and Lindsay Schoolcraft has some amazingly wicked narration here. The keyboard melodies, alongside her voice, bring back memories of Cruelty and the Beast - this wouldn't sound all that out of place on there, more modernized production values aside!

Title track "The Seductiveness of Decay" features some brilliant Maiden-on-steroids guitar harmonies, and "Vengeful Spirit" sees the return of Liv Kristine (ex-Leaves' Eyes, ex-Theatre of Tragedy). She sounds far different than usual, not quite as light and airy as one would expect from her, but she fits her role as...well, a vengeful spirit quite well. Even the bonus tracks on this thing are excellent. "The Night at Catafalque Manor" has riffs that sound straight out of Dusk combined with the more modern, brutal sound this album tends to have. The fact that it's a bonus track is a fucking sin, a nigh-unforgivable one! Their cover of Annhilator's thrash classic "Alice in Hell" is also very impressive, and it's honestly a great fit for Dani's vocal style - Lindsay Schoolcraft also has a pretty cool part in this one.

What else is there to say, really? This is easily their best album since Midian, and it might even be a little bit better than that one. The fact that Cradle of Filth were able to come back so strongly after such a massive creative slump is downright shocking. It's proof that if you're surrounded by the right people and work hard, you can do some worthwhile shit. If you don't completely hate this band and aren't terrified of your kvlt cred being diminished, Cryptoriana is absolutely worth picking up.