By Adrien Begrand
I wasn’t even going to bother wasting any time on the new Cradle of Filth album. Although they’re a very popular band with a very devoted fanbase, in my own opinion they’ve gradually turned into an incredibly frustrating band over the last six or seven years. Dani Filth has never been short of ambition, and to his credit, when all cylinders are firing the results can be extraordinary. However, the band has rarely been focused enough to make a compelling album from start to finish; this despite a handful of superb moments, such as Damnation and a Day‘s “Presents From the Poison-Hearted”, the spellbinding duet with Liv Kristine on the title track of Nymphetamine, the gleefully profane “Gilded Cunt”, and the undeniably gorgeous “The Death of Love” from 2008’s Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder. With 2006’s middling Thornography and the mediocre Godspeed suffering from a severe lack of memorable riffs and tasteful keyboard accompaniment, it was impossible to ignore the feeling that the other members of the British band are simply unable to keep up with Filth’s energy. They’ve disappointed four times in a row, so why bother now?
I must have been in a good mood a couple weeks ago when my editor and Hellbound Overlord asked me if I wanted to hear the just-released ninth studio album Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa and I said, “Sure, why not?” I had zero expectations, one courtesy listen wouldn’t hurt. Funny thing is, five minutes after popping the CD into the player, I was actually absorbed. Knowing that such instances on Cradle of Filth records have usually led to big letdowns in the past, I remained skeptical, but nope, two songs, four songs in, I was quickly realizing to myself, wait, this album just might actually be good.
Nothing has changed in the Cradle of Filth oeuvre; this is the same old shtick. Busy, often lengthy songs riddled with tremolo-picked melodies, maniacal blastbeats and double-kicks, and Filth refusing to shut the hell up for a minute with his constant macabre wordplay. But the huge, huge difference this time around is there’s no filler whatsoever. Every track is, if not very strong, then at least cohesive. The compositions are as hectic as ever, but dynamics are utilized nicely, and guitarists Paul Allender and James McIlroy actually come through with riffs and melodies that hold our interest rather than merely treading water. And while Filth remains as logorrheic as ever (there are so many lyrics the font in the CD booklet is microscopic), his vocal delivery is surprisingly controlled, with few of the histrionics that proved distracting on the last album. As a result, we get such tracks as the fiery “Retreat of the Sacred Heart” and “The Cult of Venus Aversa” that have the entire band sounding rejuvenated.
One crucial addition is keyboardist Ashley Ellyllon, who was a key member of American black metalers Abigail Williams and similarly proves her worth on this album. It’s clear she knows just how to accompany extreme metal guitars, as not only do her synths echo and complement the maniacal riffing, but she’s brilliant at creating atmosphere with subtle ambient touches. Just as Ellyllon showed with her old band, if you have a talented enough keyboardist, you don’t really need a 100 piece orchestra.
If there’s one gripe, it’s that Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa doesn’t utilize female vocals often enough; in fact the mid-tempo “The Persecution Song” practically begs for a woman’s voice. We do get a couple of such tracks, though, and guest vocalist Lucy Atkins does a tremendous job on “Lilith Immaculate” and “Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)”. She sings in a wonderfully detached, upperclass style, very similar to UK pop singer Sophie Ellis Bextor, which is perfectly suited to Filth’s female protagonist, not to mention proving an appropriate foil to Filth’s atonal screech. Underused as Atkins might be, this is nevertheless a tremendous return to form for Cradle of Filth, their best album since Midian, and hopefully the catalyst for a creative renaissance. Colour this skeptic pleasantly surprised.
“Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)”