First loves are a wild thing. Each experience is brand new, particularly if you find it in your teen years and elicits extreme positive and negative emotions. With nothing to compare your experiences to, every touch and sign of affection is pure exhilaration, while every minor slight or ignored message makes you feel like you’re on the cusp of the end.
Once upon a time, Barnes & Noble had a pretty solid CD collection available. If my book nerd mom had just enough wine at family dinner on Fridays, we could convince her to go to the store and treat us to a book, CD or DVD. After hearing “Her Ghost In The Fog,” my campaign to get mom more wine at dinner was in full swing and Midian was in my hands less than a week later. Falling in love is the only way to describe my experience listening to that album. Everything before Midian remains unimpeachable for me today and is a powerful source of the love I once had for the band.
Yes, the love I once had.
Damnation And A Day and Nymphetamine would follow with mixed results. The former was an odd shift away from Midian that was simply too long. The latter, however, was a decent return to form that just didn’t quite live up to the 2000 classic. It was a promising album that still kept me hooked to see what would come next. Then it happened. Cradle of Filth dropped Thornography on me and ended it all. They had decided it was time to experiment in the bedroom and ignore their audience’s safe words. We were betrayed and I was left a jilted lover deciding the band was over and stopped making music after 2004. I would always look fondly on their early works and regularly revisit them to remember the good times, like flipping through a photo album of the passionate years before the divorce.
As the years went by, reviewers had begun to sing the praises of these gothic vampires again. I, however, remained stubbornly steadfast in my refusal to give my ex another chance. Alas, in the year 2021 of our good queen Bathory, fellow fans in the Last Rites Kingdom convinced me that the Brits had changed and I should really ask them out to a glass of wine to catch up and see how I feel. So, I did.
I was floored by how much I enjoyed The Manticore and Other Horrors, Hammer of the Witches and Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay. It was true after all; Cradle of Filth had returned to who they were when we first became creatures kissing in cold mirrors.
So, what of the newest chapter? Is it more cruelties like Thornography or more beasts like the last three?
I am happy to report that Filth fans all over the world should hold hands and form a love train on their way to pick up a copy of Existence Is Futile.
After a brief intro, “Existential Terror” slices into your ears with some pseudo-thrashy rhythms, a killer bridge led by drums and bass, and all the symphonic coloring you’ve come to know and love. “Necromantic Fantasies” is a pure distillation of Cradle of Filth with a dark and dramatic opening that transitions into a weeping riff. It contains passages sure to see hands clapping along in unison accompanied by a nifty wailing burst of guitar around the 4:40 mark. “Crawling King Chaos” has whirling tremolos, blasting drums and some quintessential Dracula music two minutes in. “Black Smoke Curling From the Lips of War” has the giddy energy and triumphant feel typically reserved for power metal. “How Many Tears to Nurture a Rose?” has an opening stretch with shredding guitars flying around in the background and some hair-on-fire rhythms.
Album closer “Us, Dark, Invincible” is the perfect crusher to end the album. It has big open guitars and thundering drums early on that make it feel absolutely massive alongside a memorable chorus that is sure to get you shouting along. Not to mention there’s a delightful little moment where Dani Filth practically harmonizes with the high operatic vocals backing him.
Throughout the album, the guitars seem free of genre limitations. Ashok and Rick Shaw seem to simply be having fun and putting together whatever works for the aim of the song. Dani Filth, of course, continues to be one of the most recognizable and unique voices in metal. What really stands out on Existence is Futile is the keyboards and orchestrations. The work from Marthus and Anabelle Iratani is just as powerful as a primary driving force of tracks like “Crawling King Chaos” as they are a backing element – like the fluttery space-like notes in “Suffer Our Dominion.” The sound, style and instrumental mix of those symphonic notes add a great deal of diversity and energy to the album.
Naturally, there are a couple of flaws in the album as well. The three instrumental tracks are not at all memorable and serve no real purpose. Additionally, “Discourse Between a Man and His Soul” is overly slow and sappy to the point that it kills the momentum of what came before it. Neither of these complaints is even close to a death knell for the record.
While their kingdom was growing in the early 2000s, Cradle of Filth was hellbent on putting too many additions on their castle. Eventually, they ruined its overall aesthetic. All these years later, they’ve knocked those down to return their abode to its purely gothic form and made sure that each of its most vital features is maintained in tip-top shape. With Existence is Futile, the moat is full of crocodiles, the belfry screams with bats, the brothel is full of busty lasses and well-hung lads, and the dungeon is loaded with virgins whose blood will keep the Filth young forever.
As such, my relationship with Cradle of Filth is renewed in an altered form. Our spark is still there, but it is no longer the blazing inferno of sneaking out of the house, staying out past curfew, drinking too much and doing things that are highly illegal depending on where you live. No, ours is a more mature late-stage relationship. The spark is a comfortable camp-side fire that’s fed by a planned evening out with a nice dinner, a couple of drinks, catching a show and maybe enjoying a midnight delight if we haven’t overdone it. The unpredictable insanity isn’t there, but Existence Is Futile gives me a perfect comfortable dose of fun that I will be glad to indulge in for many years to come.