Sunday, August 2, 2015

Album Review: Cradle of Filth - "Hammer of the Witches"

When one thinks of extreme metal, it seems fair to say that Cradle of Filth are among the most prominent and successful of its practitioners and have already established a full legacy of music, controversy and worldwide performances.  Among their peers, the band has nothing left to prove.  Yet, Dani Filth and his always-rotating case of band members continues striving to create the darkest, loudest, downright spookiest metal horrorshow of them all, culminating this time with twisted themes of “Hammer of the Witches.”

This marks the first effort from the English band since the departure (again) of Paul Allender, erstwhile guitarist and unique shredder, who often added a certain undefinable something to the aura of the band’s music.  In his absence, Dani has brought in Marek ‘Ashok’ Smerda and Richard Shaw to play guitar, but the real headline seems to be the addition of Lindsay Schoolcraft, symphonic keyboardist and solo artist.  With her and the new axe-men in tow, “Hammer of the Witches” is an album full of the usual high drama and theatric presentation that fans have come to love from Cradle, all beginning, as they all seem to, with Dani’s train whistle scream.

That said, Cradle of Filth has long made their mark in extreme metal by practically reserving the trademark on the sound of a circular saw making intimate contact with a food processor, and nothing about that paradigm has shifted in the slightest.  You can throw darts at the album from one end to the other and pretty much find examples of the pure insanity that this band can engender.  What takes a discerning ear, however, is to hear the deeply rooted crunch of the band’s myriad riffs.  “Enshrined in Crematoria” changes sound a couple times, but the unmistakable buzz of prototype thrash lives within the veins of every moment, which is a sensation that permeates much of the record.

It is worth noting that while the general buzz of Cradle rumbles on in its own idiomatic style without Allender, there is a little something lost without his designed instability.  While still well executed, “Hammer of the Witches” feels more mechanical than the best Cradle albums, as though it doesn’t quite possess the same spirit of musical adventurism of records past.  Where “Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess” moves with nice pace and puts together pieces that do shift the lens of the song, it’s hard to escape the feeling that there’s a wild left turn that’s somehow absent.  This feeling pops up now and again throughout the record and while it doesn’t subtract from the quality of the music that is there, it gives the sense that “Hammer” could have been a little more.

Where “Hammer of the Witches” gains back some ground from the loss of Allender’s unique craftwork is in the greater sense of well-timed harmony.  The band has been known on occasion to feature female vocals to add some profile and depth to the usual pastiche of grinding metal, but the employment of Lindsay Schoolcraft by the band gives the listener another voice to focus on, adding more to the mix than the usual window dressing of female influence.  Schoolcraft’s tone in her various appearances provide a melodic juxtaposition to Dani’s howling that works in the album’s favor.

As ever with Cradle of Filth, the phrase “acquired taste” comes into play.  That’s not an insult or a criticism of the product, merely a statement of fact.  Those who have never been able to tolerate the specific wanderings of Dani and company will not change their minds here.  Longtime fans should take note that “Hammer of the Witches” is not quite on the level of the two albums that precede it, but it is still a solid showcase that displays some of the band’s versatility.  Worth a spin.

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