Hammer Of The Witches, Cradle Of Filth’s eleventh studio album, represents a welcome return to the eclectic chaos that embodied their past albums. 2013’s The Manticore And Other Horrors was comparatively blunt, lacking a distinctive drive and complete with rather limp instrumentation. This year’s effort is ripe with distorted beauty and barrage upon barrage of quasi-black/symphonic metal pieces that leave the album feeling immensely satisfying. Almost no stone is unturned here.
For an extreme metal band, Cradle Of Filth have amassed a definitely impressive and devoted following, as well as perhaps an equally vocal base of critics that have been left behind by the band’s continuous transition into more accessible music. In 2014 the band uncovered Total Fucking Darkness, a remastering of their first demo that demonstrates both their initial sound and just how much they have changed, for better or worse. Much like symphonic black metal band Dimmu Borgir, Cradle Of Filth have achieved healthy success with a departure from the hoarse and raw style of traditional black metal, owed to metal legends like Emperor.
In Hammer Of The Witches, the music is firing on all cylinders. Vocalist Dani Filth is expectedly on form with his uncanny and incredible demonic shrieks and guttural growling. A welcome touch to the album is a greater emphasis on the female vocals in certain tracks, notably the synonymous title song and ‘Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych’. Performed by newcomer Lindsay Schoolcraft the operatic female vocals provide refreshing respite for the rasp and gasp of Filth’s voice as it tears through the layers of music beneath. Neither do they subtract from the creepiness that shrouds the album with its eerie compositions and delicate interludes, as well as drummer Martin Skaroupka’s epic orchestration and keyboards.
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Album highlights, the aforementioned ‘Right Wing’, ‘Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess’ and ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, all contain furiously catchy guitar licks from Richard Shaw and Marek Smerda and relentless drums that provide that essential backbone to the unorthodox and shifting song structures. Such items were sorely missing from the previous record. The songs almost seem to inhale and exhale with the constantly changing dynamics and tempos, as if to give the album that breath of life. The only thing stopping this from achieving a perfect score is the slightly weaker track, ‘The Vampyre At My Side’ that seems lacklustre in comparison to the melodies encased within the rest of the album.
Hammer Of The Witches is a darkly harmonious album that provides the keys to a remarkable sound. It provides the right balance of fury and finesse that harkens the return of what Cradle Of Filth needed. As the IT Crowd’s Richmond Avenal would say “It sounds horrible, but it’s actually quite beautiful.”
Hammer Of The Witches is out now on Nuclear Blast records.