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After the cancellation of last year's inaugural Alt-Fest, Cradle of Filth still honoured their booking for an intimate, pre-festival warm-up show at Coventry's Kasbah Nightclub; a rare appearance for the British (but now multinational) band on home turf, who've eschewed (or simply not been booked for) anything that vaguely resembles a UK tour for a number of years. I attended said show and was, unfortunately, drastically underwhelmed. Longstanding guitarist/songwriter Paul Allender was, of course, gone; his departure officially announced earlier in the year in a matter-of-fact manner, months after he'd actually jumped ship. His absence was sorely missed on the stage. And with a setlist heavily biased towards retro revelry, with twisted tunes of yore aired in abundance, it should've been a celebration of Cradle's two decades of dark metal might... but, quite the contrary, it was as lacklustre as a performance could be. The overriding feeling was that of Dani Filth plus a bunch of hired hands. Drummer Martin Skaroupka had been in the band for eight years at that point, I give you that, but the other four members had only been recruited within the previous 24 months, and two of them that very same year. It showed. And it felt like Karaoke of Filth rather than Cradle of Filth. I hasten to add that I've been a long-term, ardent admirer of the band, ever since their Cacophonous days and throughout whatever incarnation or alliance of musicians has constituted the band at any given time. But I was ready to give up on the 'new' Cradle after Coventry. It just didn't feel like the same band anymore (effectively, it wasn't). Then, their new album arrived for review...

Straight off, I must exclaim that 'Hammer of the Witches' is something of a corker. The band's fantasy horror aesthetic (with a healthy dose of darkly erotic overtones) remains well and truly intact, courtesy of Dani's ever creative vision. That's remained true over the years for each and every release - after all, Dani's been the perpetual presence in Cradle, so I guess it's no surprise. It's what's helped sustain the band's popularity, and his creativity and general aesthetic ingenuity should never be underestimated within the context of Cradle's success. However, what's taken me completely by surprise is just how great the music is, particularly in light of that Coventry performance last year. Not only that, but this latest ensemble have managed to (re)create a sonic diachrony of the band's filthy past which, somehow, succeeds in capturing the true spirit, essence and atmosphere of everything that made Cradle such an exciting band in the first place. And more surprising still, I'm happy to declare this the most Cradle of Filth album there's been in a long time. That's not to disrespect or disparage any previous album in any small way as their output has always ranged from good to great to absolutely amazing; rather, 'Hammer of the Witches' is primed to please long-time fans more than any other in recent years.

From the off, it's blueprint Cradle through and through. A short, orchestral intro piece, 'Walpurgis Eve', opens the album with just enough sonic menace before the first song, 'Yours Immortally', kicks in good and proper with blast beats, tremolo picked guitar parts, pounding bass, lush keyboard melodies and Dani's despaired screams. And the album pans out much as you'd expect a Cradle album to unfold, albeit with the right balance of incisive bite, depraved dissonance, melodic allure, zealous litanies of poetic prowess, symphonic grandeur and respectful nostalgia. In fact, Dani seems to be revelling in the album's inherent diachrony and musically retro flavours, even including a female utterance of "queen of winter, throned" during 'Right Wing of the Garden Triptych', a not so subtle nod towards his 'Vempire' days. In fact, said track even features a guitar part that sounds reminiscent of the bridge from 'Queen of Winter, Throned'. There are also some implicit nods towards Dani's erstwhile inspirations; notably, the Sabbat-esque vocal phrasing during the title track (and elsewhere on the album) la Martin Walkyier's rasped lyrical remonstrations. Kind of befitting for the album's 16th/17th century subversive witch hunt themes when you consider Sabbat explored similar thematic territory in 'For Those Who Died'.

In one sense, it's wholly ironic that it's taken a bunch of newcomers to recapture the true sonic essence of the band. In another sense, these new players are indubitably adept at imitating the dark, innovative metal that's always been associated with the Cradle of Filth name. For now, based on the strength of this new filthy beast of an album, the Cradle name looks solid and secure for a good few years to come.
Nuclear Blast
Review by Mark Holmes
10th July 2015
1) Walpurgis Eve; 2) Yours Immortally
3) Enshrined In Crematoria
4) Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess
5) Blackest Magick In Practice
6) The Monstrous Sabbat (Summoning The Coven)
7) Hammer Of The Witches
8) Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych
9) The Vampyre At My Side
10) Onward Christian Soldiers
11) Blooding The Hounds Of Hell
"...this latest ensemble have managed to (re)create a sonic diachrony of the band's filthy past which, somehow, succeeds in capturing the true spirit, essence and atmosphere of everything that made Cradle such an exciting band in the first place."