[5 November 2006]
There’s an ancient unwritten law that goes something like this: the music has to come before the image.
And that’s where Cradle of Filth comes in. They’ve been the subject of some ill will amongst metal ‘purists’, as well as Ozzfest regulars, and it’s easy to see why –- to the untrained eye they look like the full band equivalent of Marilyn Manson, and, though they’re now far from the most graphic band on the market, their music seems like a batch of tactless Satan-hailing chaos.
On Thornography, however, the follow-up to 2004’s Grammy-nominated Nymphetamine and another installment in the extensive catalog that has practically written them into extreme music’s history, the group are achieving more melody than ever before… though it’s not through the vocals. The disc’s chapters are loaded with metallic riffs that don’t so much brutally pummel the listener into submission as take a turn to the progressive, while the album’s dark lyrics themselves hint, sometimes with surprising intelligence, at different concepts and emotional spectrums far more diverse than commonplace devil and destruction traps.
Most notable about the record, though, is no longer the group’s facial makeup –- it’s the contrast between the band’s different sections: the way that bleak guitarwork fits with blindingly fast percussion and the group’s alternating vocalists—no longer do they need the guest vocals of Liv Kristine, as they did on their previous album, while Sarah Jezebel Deva belts out piercing Helium screams on par with band head Dani Filth’s macho death grunts. Most of these “songs”, if it can be fair to call them that, set themselves up around a “hook”, usually a collection of about four syllables, driven in with a stake at regular intervals, while tracks like “Libertina Grimm” and “Rise of the Pentagram” are obviously this album’s salute to forgotten serial killers and rituals, respectively.
Nor is it without splaying album centerpieces to support this ideal, or a brief vocal cameo from H.I.M.‘s Ville Vallo on “Byronic Man”. “I Am the Thorn”, in addition to crescendoing up to a dizzy pace and then working itself back down, takes seven minutes just to establish “This is not the hand of God / I am the thorn”. Also-seven-minute behemoth “Lovesick for Mina” follows shortly after, as does “Under Huntress Moon”. As Filth himself kindly proclaimed prior to Thornography‘s release, “This title represents mankind’s obsession with sin and self… an obsession with cruelty,” and the great thing about that quote is that the whole band follow up on that expectation, and sound like they’re wearing it with something like pride.
For the gen-u-wine heart on sleeve touches within, however, instances such as the closing minute of “Tonight in Flames”, a cut otherwise occupied with sinister shrieks and growls about religious fanaticism coupled with complex time signatures, in which a piano pokes its head out, or “Libertina Grimm”, which ladles on sweeping violin a la melodic death metal reach out, plus bonus organs and a choir elsewhere inside, all of which help Cradle of Filth retain their gothic element. Oh, and a cover of synth-pop group Heaven 17’s “Temptation” is given new life on the end of the album; sickening, really, if you play it right.
Recitals such as the one which opens the instrumental “Rise of the Pentagram” keep the storyline, too; and on more radio-friendly fare “Foetus of a New Day Kicking”, for which whoever in the band thought up the title can consider themselves imaginatively blessed, we find the vocalists nearly singing. It’s on the relatively short “Dirge Inferno”, inspired predictably by the Biblical book of Revelations, though, that sees the sextet reaching a precision they’d never quite achieved before, keeping one foot in the speed/black metal outlets by which they made their name, and with the other toying with symphonic, epic, Scandanavian, and even metal-core influences.
Thornography, all things taken into consideration, is one of most solid additions in Cradle of Filth’s history—which is saying something, considering it’s their seventh full-length album, 12th studio work to date, and 20-somethingth if you count demos and live releases. Cliché and horrifying as it is to say it, they’re not going anywhere, and they really have what it takes to hold dignity with older listeners and deliver the goods to the newer generation if they keep this steadily improving standard up. While it pales in comparison to some of the other projects metal bands have put out this year (Mastodon, Slayer, the upcoming Killswitch Engage album), it reaches an almost orchestral climax, and it sounds like no other band, if only you give it time to be properly digested past the initial shock.