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Another twisted symphony has been conjured. - 90%

hells_unicorn, October 22nd, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, CD, Nuclear Blast

Theatricality has long been tied to the metal scene, and while many have proven apt to refine and expand upon the relationship between auditory and visual darkness, Suffolk’s own Cradle Of Filth have taken the concept to its logical conclusion for most of their 30 year history. Naturally with such a lengthy career now under their belts and a massive number of lineup shifts that has left front man and mastermind Dani Filth as the lone founding member of the fold, there have been some periods of ebb and flow in the quality of their output, with the mid-2000s era of the band and specifically 2006’s Thornography being a middling point on an otherwise highly consistent career. But in recent years this seasoned coven of metal warlocks has been conjuring up some truly intense material, specifically since the release of 2015’s Hammer Of The Witches, that has rivaled their most spectacular and seminal output during the mid to late 1990s and moved the emphasis back towards a guitar-oriented storm of metallic excess.

Nipping on the decrepit heels of the aforementioned 2015 LP and ode to medieval witch-hunting manuals set to metal and 2017’s Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay is a similarly geared fit of bleak, Gothic-steeped melancholy with a ferocious bite dubbed Existence Is Futile. Retaining the services of virtuoso guitar duo Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Smerda and bassist Daniel Firth from the two previous installments, the instrumental assault that occurs includes the same crossroads of kinetic and melodic thrash, death and black metal trappings filtered through a grandiose symphonic lens that bridges the gap between their primordial 90s offerings and the neo-romantic orchestral colossus with a blackened melodic twist that was 2003’s Damnation And A Day. However, the entry of keyboardist, clean vocal foil and newest member Annabelle Iratni proves equally as significant to the sonic contours of this album, as she functions instrumentally as a return of the days of Martin “Foul” Powell’s tenure with the band and vocally as a near perfect emulation of Sarah Jezebel Deva, resulting in a fair bit of 2000’s Midian slipping into the arrangement.

Yet when all is said and done, the true power and intrigue of this fold rests in the sum of all its parts, with their flamboyant vocal impresario there to somehow make sense of all the fits and starts within this morbid anthology. Following what can be best described as a dreary yet enthralling symphonic overture in “The Fate Of The World On Our Shoulders”, not a single punch is pulled in establishing Cradle Of Filth’s extreme metal bona fides. The first wave of darkened violence “Existential Terror” proves to be among the more multifaceted excursions into this outfit’s craft, beginning on a thunderous mid-paced stride with frequent asides into more chaotic territory with a continual overhang of dense keyboard arrangements and the sweet savor of Iratni’s operatic soprano. Similarly geared epic forays into blustery yet structurally nuanced territory include the fatalistic metallic narrative “The Dying Of The Embers” and the often thrashing yet mixed up ode to human extinction “Suffer Our Dominion”, which features one of the most technically charged guitar displays heard out of Cradle’s arsenal yet.

While there is definitely an elaborate character to this album that dovetails nicely with its clear affinity to the older Cradle Of Filth sound, these mad lads and lass takes equal time to go straight for the throat with a series of simpler and faster material. Although the title might seem a bit misleading, “Crawling King Chaos” boasts a relentless barrage of ultra-fast blackened mayhem that would have any fan of older Emperor and Old Man’s Child nodding in approval. Moving a bit towards this group’s version of banger territory, the driving power and thrashing metallic fury of “How Many Tears To Nurture A Rose” is pretty heavy on the infectious hooks and fancy guitar high-jinks, a combination which is mirrored in a more chaotic fashion on the catchy super cell of force “Black Smoke Curling From The Lips Of War”, featuring a brilliant back and forth between Filth and Iranti during the song’s haunting refrain section. Curiously enough, the ultimate coup de grace of this highly polished new classic is one of the bonus numbers included on the special digipak and vinyl editions in “Sisters Of The Mist”, which goes on a bit longer than the rest, but showcases a brilliant mixture of high octane power and memorable moments, culminating in something of an unofficial sequel to their 2000 hit “Her Ghost In The Fog”.

Clocking in at well over an hour in length and possessed of so many riveting moments within each of its 14 musical chapters, Existence Is Futile is, if nothing else, the complete package. The level of intrigue that emerges between the game of notes emanating from each instrumentalist, let alone the dark poetic musings offered up, is near impossible to overstate. The passage of 30 years and the correspondingly punishing days upon days of touring has done absolutely nothing to stymie Dani Filth’s ability to shriek and rave like he’s still frolicking in the raw and pitch black days of Cruelty And The Beast and Midian, and the current crop of musicians at his sides are among the best he has ever employed. If there is any Persian Flaw that robs this masterwork of existentialism meshed with cosmic Lovecraftian horror, it is that there is so much to unpack that a several weeks of attentive listening would be required to fully grasp what has been conveyed. If nothing else, the fact that the Cradle Of Filth brand continues to draw massive crowds despite existing on the fringe of accessibility is a testament to their charisma and competency as artists, and this latest exhibit is not one to be missed.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (www.sonicperspectives.com)