Release Date: Jul 10, 2015
Record label: Nuclear Blast
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
Review Summary: Who saw this coming? Cradle of Filth return with a new line-up and a renewed vigor that has lead to their best album since Midian.Cradle of Filth have been operating without a firm direction for the better part of fifteen years. Ever since Damnation and a Day, they have been trying to figure out how to blend their goth-inspired black metal with a more mainstream, guitar-dominated, approach – and they’ve never quite got it right. This revelation shouldn’t come as a surprise; if we’re being honest, Paul Allender, Charles Hedger and James McIlroy were never really prolific riff-writers.
While there is little chance that Cradle of Filth will ever seem as subversive and untamed as they did during their first flush of infamy two decades ago, Suffolk’s leading purveyors of wildly theatrical extreme metal are still on excellent form. Hammer of the Witches offers the first fruits of a rejuvenated line-up, and pulls off the neat trick of being both a joyous nod towards past glories and a significant creative rebirth. Returning to the twin-guitar histrionics of earlier albums Cruelty and the Beast and Midian, these are the most vital and incisive songs Dani Filth has conjured from the dark ether in a long time.
It’s hard to believe that Cradle of Filth have been through heavy line-up changes (guitarist Paul Allender is out, replaced here by not one but two axmen), because on 'Hammer of the Witches' the band sounds as strong as ever. On their eleventh studio album, CoF’s schlock-black metal sound is more alive than it has in a while. The theatrics are more pronounced than on the past couple albums, and the band rides the wave of two guitarists to full glory.
For a band as steeped in dominant imagery and theater as Cradle of Filth, reinventing the wheel can be a daunting task. Therefore, on their 11th studio album, this unholy horde, forever wrapped in corpse paint, leather, and spikes, look back more than they do forward. And that proves a good thing. Hammer of the Witches finds departing guitarist/songwriter Paul Allender replaced by two players -- Rich Shaw and Marek Smerda -- in a nod back to the band's earlier twin axe attack.
When guitarists Paul Allender and James McIlroy quit Cradle of Filth in 2014, they left a void in their wake. But this is a band that’s seen over half a dozen lineups since forming almost 25 years ago, and recovery was swift and productive. Guitarists Ashok (of Root) and Rich Shaw (of Emperor Chung) came on for live performances last year. Eventually, the newly assembled group, as led by founding member and lyricist Dani Filth, were ready to record a new album together.
Hammer Of The Witches follows a lull in the fortunes of one of the UK’s most notorious extreme metal bands, but, to their credit, Cradle Of Filth have spent the last decade or so avoiding the “symphonic black metal” pigeonhole that they’re most associated with. The downside of this restlessness, though, is that their latter-day discography lacks the impressive unity of their mid-90s works. Whereas 2012’s The Manticore And Other Horrors showcased a pared-down three-piece Cradle with a focused, riff-laden approach but slightly pedestrian songs, Hammer Of The Witches boasts twice the players and reinstates the pomp and breadth of vision of the band at their baroque best.
For a band best known for gimmicks — Dani Filth's ghastly shriek, the oft-obnoxious keyboards and the infamous "JESUS IS A CUNT" shirt come to mind — Cradle of Filth sure have built a lengthy career. Hammer of the Witches is the 11th album by Dani and his rotating crew; perhaps the most recent line-up shuffle has invigorated the group, as it might be their most lively full-length in a decade. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm comes with pros and cons.Imagine a high school metal band: they're excited about their newfound genre and their capacity to play it, but their inability to control that energy results in a spirited yet scattered sound splattering.