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'Hammer Of The Witches'
(Nuclear Blast Records)
Out Now

Luke 'Loki' Milne

Luke Loki Milne

Cradle of Filth

For many Metal fans, Cradle Of Filth are a band that require very little in the way of introduction.

Marrying a warped combination of savage, disturbed music with shocking imagery and morbid theatricality, the band have traversed the tempestuous waters of the music industry for almost a quarter of a century. Indeed, though the cultured and somewhat bookish vocalist may be the sole founding member remaining in the band's line-up today, there's no denying the success of Dani Filth's creation.

Though official sources place Cradle Of Filth as forming in 1991, Dani jokingly reported to MetalTalk's Mark Taylor during a recent interview that he only counts the band's age from the release of their debut album ('The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh' – 1994), saying that it "makes [them] feel younger".

Casting aside the rather biblical amount of musicians that have passed through the band during it's course, it's fair to say that Cradle Of Filth (as an entity) has survived decades which have featured heavy evolutionary steps in the commonly-accepted trends in musical fashions, styles and popularity.

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The "death" of Heavy Metal (commonly accepted to have hit it's crescendo by the early 90s) seemed to wash over the original members of the band, apparently undeterred as they began their journey through the music industry some twenty years ago. Cradle Of Filth began, and maintained, a life shrouded in a furiously dark theatricality of poetic lyricism and grinding, discordant sound, oft misinterpreted as being Satanic in nature; a label that Filth has been strongly shrugged off for much of the band's career in spite of heavy lyrical and visual influences tying in with the occult.

Their eleventh studio album, 'Hammer Of The Witches', maintains these ties, drawing inspiration from historical events of the 16th and 17th century - a time when witch hunting was rife throughout Europe, and women were subjected to horrific forms of prejudice spurred on by an arguably misguided sense of justice and religious duty.

In a rather grisly twist, the album shares its name with the translated title of the Malleus Maleficarum, an "instruction manual" of sorts that highlights the supernatural phenomenon of witchcraft and, ultimately, how to torture and prosecute a witch - Filth comments that his own interpretation of the title flips the concept on its axis, representing a hammer wielded by the witches as an instrument of revenge against misogyny.

With the recent spike in popularity of the gender equality movement among commercial musicians and celebrity types, it's unclear whether or not the subject matter of 'Hammer Of The Witches' has been crafted intentionally as Filth's own input concerned with the recent rise of gender politics – but you'd certainly be forgiven for thinking so.

Inspired by German Folklore, 'Walpurgis Eve' sets the scene as the album's instrumental opening track, beset with an eerie, deliberate and twisted tone. To give some context, Bram Stoker's short story, 'Dracula's Guest', describes Walpurgis Eve as a night when, "according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel". Spooky? Yeah, I'd say so.

"Atmospheric" is the buzz word here, and the spooky, Gothic theme continues as Cradle Of Filth announce their return to form with the furiously paced 'Yours Immortally', slipping once more into their trademark style with undeniable ease through the album's opening tracks.

The addition of new members to the band draws a fresh layer of colour to the band's music as Filth, Firth and Skaroupka are joined by guitarists Richard Shaw and Marek Šmerda. This dual-guitar arrangement is something that has been missing from Cradle's music for some time, and the returning form is certainly welcome. Shaw and Šmerda weave a fantastically thick and decorative layer of dual guitar melodies throughout tracks like 'Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess', filled with raw, aggressive and heavily rhythmic movement that almost borders on progressive at times.

Keyboardist and female Vocalist Lindsay Schoolcraft returns in her first studio album appearance with the band, and her sweetly haunting vocal tone adds a layer of ghostly melodic movement beneath Filth's writhing and grotesquely emotive vocal performance.

'Hammer Of The Witches' feels more like a piece of audio artwork, a concept album that presents a melodic and rhythmic tapestry painted with gruesome lyric truths that culminate into an audible experience that delves into one of history's darker periods. It's fair to say that Hammer Of The Witches is a well-crafted experience, as opposed to an assortment of tracks strung together to form a marketable product.

I don't think I'd be alone in saying that, for me, 'Hammer Of The Witches' is by far the best release of recent years from Cradle Of Filth in terms of compositional content. The album has been penned fantastically, with each track feeling well-placed within the album and painting a different shade of black to the grim and atmospheric canvas of the product. You're in for a dark and twisting musical experience; drawn together for some 50 minutes of content, the album's eleven tracks feel absolutely huge in stature, with each feeling like a truly epic dive into a world painted by the album's subject theme ('Onward Christian Soldiers' springs to mind as a fantastic example of this).

With a band as commercially known as Cradle Of Filth, there will naturally be some divided opinions among the Metal community concerning their latest release. British music fans love a good topical debate and it's no secret that some fans will loudly express their conflicting opinion without running through a sufficient course of research and opinion-building - much to the annoyance of those who do.

On top of that, it's become commonplace over the years for Cradle Of Filth to receive a fair amount of negative press due to their presentation and lyrical subject matter; theirs is a name that constantly crops up when a news bulletin hits involving violent actions from troubled individuals, and is often pooled together with the likes of Marilyn Manson and Slipknot when such cases arise.

It is truly saddening that commercial media still seems so far behind in terms of understanding the fact that acts like Cradle Of Filth write music for entertainment purposes, with no hidden agendas of rousing violent or anti-religious actions among their fans – especially since the subject matter presented here is so interesting. While listening to this album, I sincerely recommend delving into a few related books or articles to give context and depth to the music.

Despite what media outlets might suggest, I'm happy to report that I conducted a fair amount of research into the subject matter of 'Hammer Of The Witches' and while it's true that the topic of witch-hunting is hauntingly grotesque in places, it's a fascinating topic to read into and I certainly don't feel compelled to throw on a hooded robe and start sacrificing chickens in a graveyard to please the Devil.

Regardless of any negative press and preconceptions that may surround Cradle Of Filth's lengthy history, you need only look to the facts to clear any distorting smears from the lens; 'Hammer Of The Witches' was officially released on July 10th and in that space of time has risen to #2 in the BBC Radio One Rock charts, and #44 in their regular charts.

Yes, Cradle Of Filth's eleventh studio album has proven to be a roaring success for the band, showing that after 20-odd years of creating dark, atmospheric and theatrical musical entertainment, the fans are still behind Dani Filth and his bandmates, who are still releasing fantastic material that's well worth the price tag.

Naturally, the music of Cradle Of Filth may not reach out to all music tastes unanimously, however those keen to have their ears assaulted by a sickeningly dark piece of historical artwork will not be disappointed!

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