Sound — 7
Cradle Of Filth originally formed in 1991 and released their first full-length album in 1994. While the band's sound was initially black metal, they have evolved in sound since then and would more accurately be categorized as "extreme metal." The band still often displays elements of black metal, as well as gothic and symphonic elements in their music. The lineup of the band has been especially turbulent, with Dani Filth being the only remaining founding member. Martin "Marthus" Škaroupka is the second longest remaining member, having been with the band on drums since 2006. The other four members of the band have all been with the band 3 years or less, though this album signifies the first album from the band in a long while to contains dual guitars - Ashok and Richard Shaw. Daniel Firth joined on bass in 2012, and Lindsay Schoolcraft joined on keyboards and female vocals in 2013. The band's eleventh album, "Hammer of the Witches," is being released by Nuclear Blast Records and contains 11 tracks, clocking in at 56 minutes. The songs revolve around themes of the persecution of supposed witches, historically, and re-writes the story with some rather intense retribution and revenge.
The album opens up with the track, "Walpurgis Eve," which sets the mood for the album with some creepy keys and strings. "Yours Immortally..." is the second song on the album, and is a much more straightforward song, benefiting from vocals by both Dani Filth and Lindsay Schoolcraft. "Enshrined in Crematoria" is a fairly strong track on the album, with some old school gallops on guitar and Marthus' drumming having a definite vintage black metal vibe. "Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess" has a mouthful of title, and is equal part dark vibes and epic metal guitars - and of course blastbeats on the drums. The lead guitar on this track really got my attention - at times it went from tasteful to pure chaos and stayed engaging every time a lead line showed up on the track. "Blackest Magick in Practice" opens up with some strings, choir and a pretty vocal piece completed by female vocals. The male vocals coming in were in sync, initially, with the drums on the song which was an interesting effect. "The Monstrous Sabbat (Summoning the Coven)" is another song that opens up as a primarily atmospheric piece, though this one doesn't grow into a metal song but stays orchestral with some choir work going on, as well. The title track, "Hammer of the Witches" is up next and it makes its mark pretty quickly in intensity alone. Dani and Lindsay's vocals are especially engaging on this track, and the short monologues from Lindsay are used to great effect. The song does an awesome job of building to a crescendo... and then building to another crescendo on top of the last.
"Right Wing of the Garden Triptych" opens up with clean female vocals, and the guitars come in with some heavy riffing - in other words, not sounding like stereotypical Cradle of Filth (though not in completely new territory, either). The tremolo picked riffs in much of the song are accompanied by black metal-styled vocals from Dani with some interesting backing vocals doing a lot for this track. This is essentially the album's single, as this is the only song to currently have a music video. "The Vampyre at My Side" opens with an acoustic guitar playing some arpeggios, classic black metal here, and then heavy drumming and creepshow vocals joining it before the electric guitars come in. The lead guitar on this track is what really pushes it for me. The guitar solo near the end of this track is my favorite "guitar" moment on the album. "Onward Christian Soldiers" opens up with some choir, percussion and organ music (very dark), but it blows up into blast beats and a black metal screech drawn out, and some almost narrative lyrics from Dani Filth. The album closes with "Blooding the Hounds of Hell," which is the second shortest song on the album at just over 2 minutes, when most tracks are over 5 minutes. This is an atmospheric track, depending predominantly on organ and female choir vocals to create an "exit vibe" for the album. At the end of the day, this is a respectable release from Cradle Of Filth, with some very strong moments.
Lyrics — 7
Dani Filth, the primary vocalist for the band and the only remaining founding member, has a distinctive voice which he most often uses in a screeching or growled black metal styling - he performs admirably on the album, especially considering the amount of time he has been doing this. The addition of female vocals by Lindsay Schoolcraft draws immediate comparisons to Sarah Jezebel Deva and then Caroline Campbell after that. Let me be clear - In my estimation Lindsay is by far the better vocalist, and it is obvious on this album. They should have taken more advantage of her vocals. The one thing that Sarah Jezebel Deva has over Lindsay is the power in her voice, which is something that Lindsay will hopefully develop as she becomes more confident in her role with the band.
As a sample of the lyrics from the album, here are some from "Right Wing of the Garden Triptych": "Why slay the grim inevitable/ And play out with a whimper/ Pain is raising armies of our faith/ Now the future cows/ Before the vows/ Prophets thunder from the heavens/ We seek to justify/ Our seed spread far and wide/ The eve that virtue died/ Bore witness to this plague/ Great Hellscapes rape inflamed horizons/ Here... / This the sore beginning/ To the war to end all wars/... / Throw wide splintered lichgates/ To the eldritch show's return/ Unforgiving proof accrual begs this cruel rebirth/ A living fuel for the blaze of renewal, razing the earth/ Pariahs and Messiahs of the highest worth/ Fodder for the denizens of risen, hissing Hell." Essentially, the lyrical themes stay consistently focused on dark retribution related to the inquisition and the witch trials. It is an interesting theme, but maybe a little overdone in metal.
Overall Impression — 7
The album artwork is definitely worth mentioning - completed in a neoclassical style by Latvian artist, Artūrs Berzinsh, it has "The Horned One" with stag's head as the center piece with several "witches" lounging against him. The best tracks from the album would probably be "Right Wing of the Garden Triptych," "Blackest Magick in Practice," and "Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess." I didn't dislike any songs from the album, necessarily, but it seems that a lot of metal bands have began putting tracks like "Blooding the Hounds of Hell" as separate tracks, when these are essentially short pieces of music for the sole purpose of creating a mood. It seems like the same piece could be worked into the intro or outro of another song and just as effectively create the vibe it is going for. I would definitely recommend this album to fans of Cradle Of Filth, pointing out that the dual guitarists, Ashok and Richard Shaw, have added something back that the band has been missing for a while.