Released: 2015, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Cradle of Filth. The mere mention of these three words conjured up one of two reactions in fans of heavy music; they have always been a bit of a 'Marmite band', almost from their inception in 1991. They have courted both publicity and mainstream attention, changed members more than most people change their socks, added and subtracted layers of their sound until they resemble pretty much nobody else in modern metal, and even put out 'that' tshirt with a masturbating nun on the front and a titillatingly naughty word on the back.
All that aside, they have produced a solidly impressive body of work in their almost quarter-century lifetime. Despite running a fair gamut of record labels and incorporating an often surprising mix of influences into their sound – punk and thrash, anyone? - they have stayed true to their original vision of dark and often conceptually quite gothic heavy metal, featuring the likes of vampires (1996's Dusk...and Her Embrace), Countess Bathory (Cruelty and the Beast in 1998) and the work of Clive Barker (Midian in 2000, from which their best known track 'Her Ghost in the Fog' came).
Armed with a brand spanking new lineup (again), inimitable vocalist Dani Filth and co. have come up with a new album, Hammer of the Witches. Based on the persecution of witches over the centuries the likes of which were listed in the book 'Malleus Maleficum', the band's eleventh album is, in the words of Filth, “payback for decades of torment” of innocent people by the church.
Armed with this rich seam of inspiration, CoF recorded Hammer... in the reportedly haunted Grindstone Studios in Suffolk, added some suitalby gruesome post-modern artwork by acclaimed artist Arturs Berzinsh, and released the album on July 10th, 2015.
The album itself begins on a rather gothy, 'horror movie soundtrack' note with intro 'Walpurgis Eve', before crashing headlong into 'Yours Immortally', which starts off as a fairly straightforward black metal song featuring Filth's unmistakeable vocals and a blistering pace, before adding dashes of melody, classic metal and some beautiful female vocals courtesy of keyboardist Lindsay Schoolcraft. So far, so intriguing...
In truth, pretty much every song on Hammer... is anything but straightforward. There is bleak beauty in several tracks, such as the galloping 'Enshrined In Crematoria' and rather vitriolic closer 'Onward Christian Soldiers'. There's widdly guitar work and a real power metal vibe (check out the title track, as well as the magnificently titled 'Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess'). There's touches of symphonic metal in tracks such as 'Right Wing of the Garden Triptych', with more of Schoolcraft's gorgeous vocals bookending the song, or the menacing 'The Vampyre at My Side'. Hell, there's even horn instruments in the epic outro 'Blooding the Hounds of Hell'!
It has been years since Cradle of Filth could simply be called 'black metal' – if indeed, they ever could. Hammer of the Witches proves that fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. Like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Dragonforce getting together to play Behemoth songs, this album is full of surprising twists, tempo changes and rollercoaster moments. Each track ebbs and flows, often losing all traces of melody a la extreme metal, before reigning it in just in time for an exhilarating finish. Ironically, the most subtle and accessible song on the album is also the highlight: the grim and tragic 'Blackest Magick In Practice', with its childlike choral intro and the addition of string instruments, is haunting and melancholy yet packs a real punch.
If you are already a fan of Cradle of Filth (or are merely curious about them) Hammer of the Witches will both delight and enlighten you. If you're not...it will do nothing to alter your stance. This is CoF doing what they do best: employing an often astonishingly populated roll call of influences and genres to create their unique brand of heavy metal. Like them or not, one thing you certainly couldn't claim is that they're not original.
Review by Melanie Brehaut