When Cradle of Filth was at the peak of their extreme metal powers in the late 90s, a career arc that included descending into cartoonish mediocrity was… actually fairly predictable. Even at their greatest, this band was ridiculous. From their romanticised lyrics and symphonic/gothic flourishes to all of the screeching insanity that Dani Filth brought to the table, nothing was even remotely subtle. They were so lacking in subtlety, that when they did descend into mediocrity, it was partly because they overdosed on the theatricality that helped make them so great to begin with.
However, if during the same era I was told that Cradle of Filth would emerge from this downturn to not only rediscover their greatness but do so through an increased embrace of classic heavy metal, I’d have thrown you off of my property.
But against all logical odds, this is basically what happened. 2015’s Hammer of the Witches was by most accounts a triumphant comeback for one of extreme metal’s most audacious and unabashedly fun bands, but in terms of personnel and approach, this was not the same band that wrote classics such as Dusk and Her Embrace. Rather, Dani’s crew of hired guns (which did and does include Root great Ashok) were mixing the black/goth drama of the 90s with a ton of Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, and other classic metal for something both new and old. It was the sound of Cradle of Filth aging gracefully with heavy metal that wisely kept the focus on Dani’s charisma, but backed him up with a songwriting approach that could best be described as shockingly balanced.
The delightfully over-the-top-named Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay absolutely follows in its predecessor’s path. Like Hammer, the foundation of Cryptoriana is largely up-tempo, blackened metal that is as focused on melody as it is on a thrashing attack or the band’s sympho-gothic attributes. This means that yes, there are plenty of ferociously blasting passages, tremolo riffs, inhuman and incomprehensible vocals, dramatic choir parts, organs, fantastic lead work, and the band’s love for everything gothic (“Wester Vespertine” even has the requisite dramatic gothy lady spoken word moment). But in 2017, all of this makes Cryptoriana just sound like one damn fine heavy metal record, regardless of extra genre descriptors.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of Cryptoriana’s quality songcraft is how well it flows, despite not being an ambitious (messy) concept album in the style of Damnation and a Day. The songs win not through individual elements, but through the complete package, as there is rarely one riff, or one keyboard part, or one Dani vomit that makes a song. For example, the cyclical organ melody in “Achingly Beautiful” is fine on its own, but it is in how it echoes similarly effective guitar melodies in other songs, not to mention contrasts the blast-heavy chorus, that makes it an essential part of the song and album. Similarly, “The Seductiveness of Decay” features some of the album’s most extreme, blasty passages, then organ and choir, then no organ and choir, then some crazy leads, then melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Helloween album, etc etc etic. Is Cradle of Filth throwing us the kitchen sink? Absolutely, but they’re doing so with the bigger picture in sight, and the results are insanely fun.
While the obligatory “if you don’t like Dani Filth you won’t like this album” statement is obvious, it also seems unnecessary in 2017. You are well aware of your personal opinion of the man, and even his detractors have to acknowledge his talent and immense personality, despite not liking the particular sounds he makes. On Cryptoriana, those sounds are much like they were on recent albums–still ferocious and oozing with charisma, but not quite screeching with the range that he achieved earlier in his career. This is actually a benefit to the album, as his near-dog-whistle delivery from V Empire would sound quite out of place on songs like “Vengeful Spirit,” with its Nightwish-meets-Mega-Man-guitars chorus.
The heightened use of classic heavy metal mentioned above is admittedly not the primary focus of Cryptoriana. That remains the unadulterated ridiculousness brought forth by Dani’s vocals and all of those symphonic and gothic elements. However, by simply allowing themselves to be a great heavy metal band again, their more ridiculous tendencies have extremely solid foundations, finally providing the veteran balance that seemingly eluded them for years. Because of this, songs like monster closer “Death and the Maiden” share an essential quality with early classics such as “The Twisted Nails of Faith.”
That quality is that Cradle of Filth should be taken seriously both because of and in spite of their ludicrous nature. Even more so than Hammer of the Witches, Cryptoriana proves that truth better than any album they’ve done in ages.