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Instantly distinctive institution - 84%

gasmask_colostomy, October 22nd, 2021

To bring you up to speed: Cradle Of Filth now feel instantly distinctive the moment you press play on a new album. Although admittedly the Ipswich, England group easily rose to the top of the meagre British black metal pile in the mid-’90s, their subsequent gradual divorce from the genre’s key sound palette left them slightly ridiculed (as “extreme gothic” graspers towards the mainstream) and a stagnating line-up eventually led to disappointing efforts. However, a drastic reshuffle following the sub-par The Manticore and Other Horrors introduced a pair of new guitarists and permanent bassist, plus new female blood, and that sextet revitalized the Cradle brand with the remarkable Hammer of the Witches and intricate Cryptoriana. We’ve waited a little longer for Existence Is Futile to finally arrive (it was recorded in the lockdown of 2020) and Anabelle Iratni takes over the role of keyboardist, orchestral composer, and female vocalist, but all signs point promisingly to the new era of the band continuing. As with the 2 previous albums, Existence Is Futile sounds simultaneously variegated yet very much like Cradle Of Filth.

Labelling the six-piece has become increasingly troublesome over the years, and though the orchestral interludes, choirs, narration, keyboards, and multiple vocal styles can only point to a necessary symphonic tag, Cradle shirk the simplicity of most symphonic black outfits by throwing all manner of other things into the mix. Even back in the days of Midian, death metal juggernauts in place of typical black metal riffs already had a notional seat at table, and the more forgiving production quality of the last Filthy decade has allowed a number of titbits from thrash and melodeath to sit alongside the capacious extremity and classical inspirations. In brief, any given song provides a cornucopia of styles and potential influences, all channelled into the discernible Cradle Of Filth sound. Match that with the array of voices and concepts that band leader Dani Filth dreams up and every release unquestionably becomes a plentiful treat of drama, technicality, and savage heaviness. The regular edition of Existence Is Futile stretches out to 57 minutes (2 impressive bonus tracks accompany the digipak), meaning the band return to an old trick – spreading 3 shorter instrumentals around the tracklisting. Though every bit a Cradle staple, let us admit that these are well-constructed filler and focus on the 9 main songs.

After a few listens, comparisons between the new material and Damnation and a Day as well as the recent Cryptoriana will undoubtedly emerge, in part due to the elaborate balance maintained between the band’s key elements and also the decidedly bombastic nature of the recording. No musician stands above any other, the guitarists reined in slightly since they were let loose on Hammer of the Witches, Marthus hitting the sticks fiercely without overwhelming the melodic side, and Dani himself scoring with plenty of his intense barbs but laying off for instrumental moments and not providing that many additional voices. Sometimes, too, the orchestral features rise highest, such as at the conclusion of lead single 'Crawling King Chaos', where chanting choirs and busy string breaks help with the refrain and to bolster Dani’s final spout of prophecy. Key to the album’s success – and a large contributor to its knottiness too – is how rarely a single song can be remembered by a single moment, whether that be a particularly powerful chorus, sudden blitz of guitar, or massive orchestration. In some ways, that mildly problematizes the record in terms of immediate hooks, though Cradle Of Filth have always acted more like a dark whirlpool that little by little sucks the listener down into foaming creative depths.

Rest assured, the songs eventually get their claws out and prove massively varied, both recalling other Cradle moments and new instances within the band’s discography. At the beginning of the album, 'Existential Terror' neatly exhibits a modern take on the classic sound, some of Dani’s higher shrieks patterning the slow chorus with cues for remembering Dusk…and Her Embrace before a slow gothic section climaxes suddenly by leaping into the same visionary rush as that old title track. Even there, the notably melodic character of Existence Is Futile becomes evident, guitars draped in shimmering raiment even when bludgeoning at pace and keys often brightening the overall picture rather than adding more shades to the chaos. Copious mid-paced sections in cuts like 'Necromantic Fantasies' and 'The Dying of the Embers' feel palatable in the same chink-of-light manner, yet Cradle can also slam the door shut for a few seconds and play a couple of bars in angular fashion, then drop a glowering doom riff, which is where 'Embers' goes before a deliberately melodic twin-guitar solo. Therefore, despite the focus that the real force of 'Suffer Our Dominion' and 'Black Smoke Curling from the Lips of War' achieves, this surely ranks among Cradle Of Filth’s most melodic albums, especially counting features like the Iron Maiden lead line that dominates the chorus of 'How Many Tears to Nurture a Rose?'

Regardless of the familiarity that comes with entering Cradle’s world, Existence Is Futile still manages to surprise, not least with its themes. Perhaps initially unclear from the Hieronymus Bosch-inspired cover art and track titles, Dani has moved another step closer to environmental misanthrope, a worldview initially revealed on the eco-aware 'Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess'. Indeed, the album’s name twists the phrase “resistance is futile” into supreme pessimism, while 'Existential Terror', 'How Many Tears to Nurture a Rose?' and particularly 'Suffer Our Dominion' stare down the barrel at the brevity of humanity’s future. Destruction and misanthropy have long camped on black metal’s ground, though 'Suffer Our Dominion' represents a notable first for Cradle as Doug Bradley’s narration slides from David Attenborough’s trademark factual benignity to its Filthy denouement: “We either reduce our race voluntarily or Nature will do it for us – and she will be fucking brutal!” In a 3 decade career swollen fat with fantastical bloodshed, Existence Is Futile surprisingly finds inspiration in real, modern horror. That reflective attitude also predominates on the almost balladic 'Discourse Between a Man and His Soul', but ending the album with 'Us, Dark, Invincible' seems to draw a line under the band’s own identity rather than another external theme.

All this only goes to confirm how utterly Cradle Of Filth are their own institution and succeed or fail on their own terms and their own merits. Certainly Existence Is Futile sustains the new vigour of the band in many ways, even if it can’t be called their freshest release of late. Those anticipating Iratni’s inclusion to alter things may be nonplussed by a very familiar vocal performance (Cradle’s many female singers have had only about 2 voices between them); nevertheless, the larger presence of symphonic elements conversely affirms her importance to the band. All the same, unexpected melodic aspect aside, this line-up never quite pull a whole rabbit out of the hat as they did with Hammer of the Witches; not to say that the assorted ears and paws scattered across the listen disappoint. If you already love Cradle Of Filth or other busy, enveloping extreme music, Existence Is Futile will provide you with months of fun – possibly enough to last until the inevitable extinction of humanity.

Originally written for The Metal Observer -