Cradle of Filth’s new album Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay is not exactly a concept album in the tradition of Cruelty and the Beast (1998) or Damnation and a Day (2003), but it does carry a strong theme throughout. The album concerns itself with “Dark Victoriana,” which is to say the obsession with death evidenced throughout Victorian culture in the 18th century. From the writings of Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) to the spiritualist movements of the latter part of the century, one can see why frontman and lyricist Dani Filth would title his album with the pun “Cryptoriana.” The themes are firmly within Cradle of Filth’s comfort zone, and yet this album comes across as their freshest in this century, and most interesting since their retelling of the Old Testament in the aforementioned Damnation and a Day. This is a return to form and then some for one of the world’s most infamous Metal bands.
The album opens with ‘Exquisite Torments Await,’ which is far from a traditional Cradle intro track. While still short, unlike ‘At the Gates of Midian’ or ‘Once Upon Atrocity’ it contains lyrics and is a song in itself. It’s an aggressively powerful opening, with tremendous drums courtesy of Martin Skaroupka and an orchestral and keys-based undertone provided by Lindsay Schoolcraft, adding the requisite horror elements for Cradle. A choir is used to great effect over the vicious Metal stylings, introducing the listener to this powerful opus. The track leads directly into the album’s first single, ‘Heartbreak and Séance.’ This track, accompanied by an exquisitely lush video, is the true entrée into the album’s themes. It’s fast, desperate, symphonic in its bombast and grandiose in its veneration of morbidity. Filth’s vocals switch from viciousness to lament on a whim, with traces of almost clean vocals in the Hetfield style encroaching on his usual screams and growls. The choir continues to have a strong presence in this track, keeping the listener firmly in a spiritual, if not religious space. This track also introduces some of the most spellbinding guitar solos ever to grace a Cradle album, the fine contributions of Richard Shaw and Marek Smerda.
‘Achingly Beautiful’ is more subdued in its opening with Arabian overtones, but quickly launches into overt aggression once more. This track relies less on symphonic elements in the beginning, instead showcasing the riffing prowess of Shaw and Smerda to construct the track. The fast-paced wall of sound breaks abruptly in the middle of the track to give way to haunting keys, strings and choir, somewhat reminiscent of Damnation and Day’s heavily orchestral experience. The return of the band, along with Filth’s vocals, is much slower and more doom laden than the first half of the track, with a vibe that overall recalls Midian’s (2000) ‘Tortured Soul Asylum,’ the most powerful close of any Cradle album; while the guitar soloing towards the tail end is pure Cruelty and the Beast.
The opening of ‘Wester Vespertine’ is mournful and discordant, but the track continues the raw fury and aggression of ‘Achingly Beautiful,’ still pulling out all the stops as if the band were closing the album rather than approaching its middle. Even the more epic and cinematic sections of this track are absolutely unrelenting in their pace, consistently carried by Skaroupka’s drums even as the choir and Schoolcraft’s keys and vocals are showcased. Schoolcraft is more commanding than ever, taking her cues from Ashley Ellyllon’s Lilith in Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa (2010). The latter half of the track is more melodic, with a stronger focus on beautiful guitar solos than has ever been heard in a Cradle album before.
‘The Seductiveness of Decay’ is a truly grandiose track, with echoes of classic Metal, Thrash and traditional Death Metal leading the way. Once again the track is riff-focused, with nods to Slayer and Death. The rumbling foundation of Daniel Firth’s bass is also particularly apparent in this track, largely laying the groundwork where orchestral strings stood in previous tracks. The riffs develop into more of an Iron Maiden style that recalls Cradle’s cover of ‘Hallowed be thy Name’ before picking up the Thrash stylings once more. The track does eventually embrace symphonic elements in a particularly ominous moment, bringing in Filth’s commanding coda.
‘Vengeful Spirit’ opens with mournfulness worthy of Dark Tranquillity, and opens into a heavy track that would continue to be at home on a Gothenburg melodic Death Metal album. Guest vocals are provided by Liv Kristine, known to Cradle of Filth fans for her prior work on the track ‘Nymphetamine’ from the album of the same name. But while Kristine was eminently recognisable in ‘Nymphetamine’ as the (now former) lead vocalist of Leaves’ Eyes, in ‘Vengeful Spirit’ her role as a murderous, jealous fiend brings with it a cold fury that breaks new ground for the normally sweet Kristine. It’s as unsettling as it is gorgeous, with something of a 1930s Depression feel to her tone.
‘You Will Know the Lion by his Claw’ continues the melodic Death Metal feeling, though the track overall becomes more Blackened. The heaviness and pace pick up dramatically once more, eclipsing the prior heights of ‘Achingly Beautiful.’ Once again it feels as though the album is roaring to a close, though this time we have reached the second last track. There are echoes of the dramatic and heavy closing moments of Damnation and a Day’s ‘Thank God for the Suffering,’ though rather than closing in this instance, they infuse the whole track. Intricate guitar solos over relentless drums are again the purview of this track, along with occasional choral interludes.
‘Death and the Maiden’ opens with symphonic bombast, expanding into a lumbering, heavy beast of a track. Shortly after it introduces acoustic guitars, blending them with the heavy drums in a style befitting ominous moments of Opeth. The electric guitars return in a manner that’s somewhat hypnotic, reminiscent of the maddening music of Lovecraftian monsters. With its choral refrain of “Eros and Thanatos” (sex and death), the track captures the ethos of the album, though overall it is more restrained than the previous ‘You Will Know the Lion by his Claw,’ making the point that Cradle’s compositions don’t necessarily need to rely on break-neck speed and all-out heaviness to carry their morbid subject matter that is heavy in its own right. In this way, it continues to be reminiscent of ‘Midian,’ in which the closing tracks were more restrained but at least as haunting as the openers. Schoolcraft’s dominant presence returns in declaratory fashion, once again recalling Ellyllon’s Lilith. Fittingly, a last blast of Shaw and Smerda solos leads into the final crushing moments of orchestration and riffing. But in the end, the album closes with not a bang, but a shiver.
For a decade or more, Cradle of Filth have struggled to outdo the first ten years of their career. With Cryptoriana, they have not only recaptured, but expanded upon the triumphs of the early days of the 90s. If Cradle can continue to create albums of this calibre, they will solidify themselves as a leading presence in Metal for at least another decade to come.