Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches Review

Though in some sewer-dwelling internet circles it may still be possible to earn your in-group stripes by shitting on Her Majesty’s Merriest Misfits, if you are of the opinion that Cradle of Filth is not a good and important band, then this review is not particularly written for you and you are warmly invited to take a hike.

Even for the believers, though, Cradle’s wilderness years have been a burden to shoulder. After a stirring, unique debut, Cradle gave the world three untouchable classics (i.e., V Empire, Dusk, Cruelty). Although Midian was still mostly good, in retrospect it clearly marked the fulcrum beyond which COF’s focus shifted to a polished, melodic sheen, a greater use of traditional metal elements, and – sadly – a greatly diminished ability to write an album full of memorable, distinct songs.

With the interminable torpor of Damnation & a Day the likely nadir, Cradle still found itself treading water for years. Both Nymphetamine and Thornography boasted a few excellent singles, but they groaned and floundered with overstuffed run times and underbaked ideas. The next few albums were a bit better – faster, livelier, a little more diverse – but Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder and Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa are packed full of songs that even ol’ Mama Filth couldn’t tell apart or bother remembering.

With 2012’s The Manticore and Other Horrors, however, things started looking up. Although none but the most ardent of morons would argue that it matched any of the band’s early classics, The Manticore felt like a rejuvenated band working on finding its footing, with nearly all traces of gothic black metal jettisoned in favor of a juiced-up trad metal workout. Hammer of the Witches, to the general merriment and jubilation of all, is a continuation of that upswing.

Well, let’s have it straight, actually: Hammer of the Witches is a great big pile of ass-kicking, and it might be the most guitar-centric album of Cradle of Filth’s career. Truthfully, Hammer of the Witches is gloriously overflowing with black metal arpeggios, trad-thrash riffing, effusive Maiden galloping, and solos upon solos. It also happens to be the first album since the departure of longtime guitarist Paul Allender. While the keyboards and symphonic arrangements are still an integral part of the band’s sound, new guitarists Rich Shaw and Ashok (the latter a former guitarist of cult Czech oddballs Root on their best albums, The Book and Black Seal) both turn in captivating performances of sturdy, inventive, and just goddamned FUN heavy metal.

All of this could still have made for a feverish but ultimately forgettable album if not for that one Ur-truth: the songs. Although there’s still nothing on Hammer of the Witches as indelible as the band’s first four albums, for the first time in well over a decade Cradle of Filth is crafting excellent, memorable songs instead of just flashy but ultimately fleeting moments. Album opener proper “Yours Immortally…” is honestly, if I’m forgiven a little hyperbole, the band’s single best, most exciting song since Cruelty and the Beast. “Blackest Magick in Practice,” meanwhile, is an emotionally affecting power ballad of sorts that rides a huge set of melancholy arpeggios into a great chorus and a tremendous, nearly perfect end-of-side-A-type conclusion. The album’s lead single “Right Wing of the Garden Triptych” is another highlight, playing spooky open keyboard tones against Marthus’s taut d-beat drumming.

Given Dani Filth’s previous album-length digressions into, for example, the lives of Elizabeth Bathory and Gilles de Rais, that Hammer of the Witches (the common English translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, a medieval religious treatise on identifying and punishing witches) lands in the same general wheelhouse is unsurprising. What does stand out, however, is that the subject matter seems to have prompted a relatively thoughtful, thorough, and – dare we say – sensitive performance from Cradle’s inimitable ringleader. If his vocals have been a sticking point in the past, they will continue to be, but Dani Filth is one of black metal’s most commanding and distinctive vocalists. If anything, time and age have tempered his delivery, such that he deploys his trademark high-pitched shrieks more judiciously, and allows the supporting musicians more space to take the lead. For a band sometimes seen as little more than a frontman and his hired guns, the chemistry of the group – in both composition and performance – belies that perception.

This has gotten out of hand, so full stop: Hammer of the Witches is easily Cradle of Filth’s best album since Midian. It is a very good album from a band that has figured out how to be very good again, and that is a truth worth celebrating with all the profligate witchiness you can muster.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

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