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A decent spirit from the witch's brew. - 84%

hells_unicorn, May 4th, 2011

Cradle Of Filth is an institution that, until just a few years ago, I was largely unaware of due to a combination of an individual boycott on all things MTV for their lack of actual musical content, and also due to the advice of purist friends who assured me that they were nothing more than a homosexual version of Slipknot with keyboards and makeup. In truth, what the band is actually about is something much more benign. I might even go so far as to say that the great Persian flaw in the band’s sound, at least as far as their more well known material is concerned, is that it is largely an inoffensive combination of extremely high-pitched witching cries, symphonic black metal spliced with gothic and operatic aesthetics, and over the top lyrical imagery.

This assessment of the band might be a little unfair because of their violent spurts of evolutionary mutation in sound, a common thing amongst bands associated with the 2nd wave of black metal, are not really on display in their middle era releases. This is essentially where “Midian” resides, in limbo between the symphonic scene from hell with vampires to boot from the mid 90s and the inferior gothic crazed material that first started popping up on “Nymphetamine”. While still heavily steeped in the pervasive keyboard trappings that can be heard on the average Dimmu Borgir and Emperor album from around this time, the riff work has taken on a strong helping of Teutonic thrash characteristics and a somewhat muddier, early death metal sound. It’s hard to hear with all the keyboard and vocal theatrics going on, but an occasional Sodom, Kreator, Death or Morbid Angel sounding guitar line in spite of the so-called mallcore hyperbole thrown around by critics.

For better or worse, this can still be qualified as a black metal album, given that the label is broad enough to include a number of releases by Immortal and Satyricon that have further stretched the boundaries of what can be considered as such. It is loaded with other influences, some compatible and some not, but it is still draped in the common aesthetic that typifies the sound. Particularly when dealing with the blazing speed and irreverent darkness of “Saffron’s Curse” and “Lord Abortion”, combining the pioneered coldness of early Emperor with a sort of creepy, film score sounding convergence of synthesized orchestral lines, the genre tendencies are pretty well present though somewhat diluted. “Amor E Morte” takes things in an overtly death/thrash inspired direction, even going so far as to include a King vs. Hanneman influenced lead interchange that is generally ignored by most Hot Topic cowboys with a taste for pseudo-metallic cuisines, save the occasional oddball who may enjoy a listening session with “Spiritual Black Dimensions”.

But the greatest strength and weakness of this album is the lyrical ponderings and storytelling of Dani Filth, who I will refer to affectionately as the prognosticator of profane poetry. When he gets into full out conceptual mode, his work ranges from sheer brilliance to awkward campiness, often with little accounting for subtlety. The combination of depressive neo-romantic melodies, blinding tremolo riffs and muddy power chords, and Dani’s neurotic vocalizations of a tale of death and love in “Her Ghost In The Fog” is utterly poignant, and sort of an odd choice for an MTV/radio hit, except for its infectious catchiness at several key points. Simultaneously, the instrumental keyboard endeavors found in “Creatures That Kissed In Cold Mirrors” and “At The Gates Of Midian” is intricate, though a bit overblown and slightly comical. But in spite of all the sheer lack of nuance going on here, the only place where things get too gratuitous to stand is “Satanic Mantra”, an A capella chant that is mercifully short, but goes way overboard on cheesiness and perfectly invokes that image of teenybopper Goth chick fodder that the band often gets stamped with. I skip this one every time I listen to this album, just to further illustrate the point.

For the prospective metal head who is on the fence about whether to try this band, this is probably the best album to look into given that from a stylistic standpoint, this is also somewhat on the fence. People that are gun shy about fully taking the plunge into black metal may find this inviting, though “Damnation And A Day” is a bit more geared towards death/thrash enthusiasts. Filth’s vocals are somewhat of a polarizing aspect of the band for some reason, though it isn’t really all that more offensive than anything that Abbath, Pest or Ihsahn has put out with their respective bands. An album lives and dies by its musical merits, not its support label or sales numbers, and that holds even to bands that commit the cardinal sin of being on MTV and being booked at Ozzfest, whether repentance occurs afterward or not.