‘Hammer of the Witches’ deserves to be in the company of ‘Dusk and Her Embrace’, ‘Vempire’‘ Cruelty and the Beast’, and that’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to say.
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 10/07/2015
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
‘Hammer of the Witches’ CD//LP//DD track listing:
1. Walpurgis Eve
2. Yours Immortally…
3. Enshrined In Crematoria
4. Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess
5. Blackest Magick In Practice
6. The Monstrous Sabbat (Summoning The Coven)
7. Hammer Of The Witches
8. Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych
9. The Vampyre At My Side
10. Onward Christian Soldiers
11. Blooding The Hounds Of Hell
12. King Of The Woods
Cradle of Filth is:
Dani Filth | Vocals
Richard Shaw | Guitar
Ashok | Guitar
Martin Skaroupka | Drums
Daniel Firth | Bass
Lindsay Schoolcraft | Keyboards and Vocals
I apologize to you all that don’t care in advance, but this is going to read more like my life story via Cradle of Filth, rather than a review at first, so please bear with me.
Like many people who grew up with Cradle of Filth as something of a gateway into black metal, I’d written them off years ago. Within a certain age range, there is often a similar answer as to when the band crossed into mediocrity from greatness: right around ‘Midian’ from 2000. Some include ‘Midian’ as a classic Cradle of Filth album, some consider it hit-and-miss, others draw their line even earlier.
The band has certainly gathered new fans as they worked through the 2000s and into the current day. I’m also sure that there are some that even prefer their later albums, though they certainly don’t seem to be as vocal. My point in getting into all of this is that how a person feels about a band’s back catalog, especially a band of this size is important context when considering a review of said band’s new material. After all, how likely are you to trust a review praising a new Metallica album if their favorite Metallica album is ‘Reload’ or ‘Lulu’?
My experience with Cradle of Filth is probably not terribly different from a lot of you reading this. I found out about Cradle via magazines like Metal Maniacs and Terrorizer right around the time of ‘Dusk and Her Embrace’ in 1996. Fourteen year old me fell in love with them instantly, and how could I not? I had just lost my faith a year earlier and ‘Dusk and Her Embrace’ was fraught with blasphemy, sensuality and gothic melodrama. It was the perfect album for that exact moment in my life.
I sought out to find (and hid as best I could) ‘Principle of Evil Made Flesh’ and ‘Vempire’, no easy feat for a young teenager in a suburb with only The Wherehouse as a local record store, such as it was. By the time I’d caught myself up, ‘Cruelty and the Beast’ was due out soon. That album was more than good enough that it kept that flame burning, though now when I listen to it, I always think about how thin the drums sound. I bought the ‘From the Cradle to Enslave’ EP and the VHS(!) with the music video for the title track, and was still completely enamoured with the band.
By the time ;Midian’ came out I had graduated high school and was working at a record store myself. I was in a black metal band and was already a few years into my ongoing love affair with black metal, though now I was more obsessed with Darkthrone, Emperor, Mayhem and Satyricon than I was Cradle. ‘Midian’ lacked the lascivious spark and quasi-vampiric excess of its predecessors. A couple of tracks aside, they seemed to be operating at half their normal energy level. Cradle and I were growing in different directions. I gave every new album a chance, and each time, I was left cold by what I heard. Attempts at staying up to date with modern metal sounds seemed to always work against what made Cradle of Filth great during their initial mid-to-late 90s heyday.
There was something different about the songs made available for streaming at various big league websites in the weeks leading up to the release of ‘Hammer of the Witches’. There was substance and passion to them. These songs sounded like they could have been made by the band I fell in love with at fourteen. Both time and modern recording styles may have buffed away some of the mysterious aura that used to surround the music, but as songwriters, Cradle of Filth is back at peak form after fifteen years of struggling to regain their footing.
“Yours Immortally...” sets a wonderfully high bar for the album as its first proper song. Everything I could ever want in a Cradle of Filth song is present. With dazzling harmonized guitar leads leading the charge before breaking into a thrashier section that feels like a mix of similar moments in Cradle classics “Heaven Torn Asunder” and “Desire in Violent Overture”. Continuing with the theme of recapturing the glory of old, “Blackest Magik in Practice” bears some resemblance to “Beauty Slept in Sodom” during it’s more reserved tempos. It also features an excellent fluttering riff woven in throughout.
Listening to ‘Hammer of the Witches’ these last several weeks has been a similar experience to when I first heard Carcass’ instant classic comeback album ‘Surgical Steel’. I won’t go so far as to say that ‘Hammer of the Witches’ is at quite the same level, but then again so few albums within the last 10 years have been. In fact, it’s albums like ‘Surgical Steel’ that have kept me from completely succumbing to pre-emptive pessimism about future albums from other great bands that have found themselves struggling in the mid to late stages of their career, including Cradle of Filth. ‘Hammer of the Witches’ is a similarly affirming album, worthy of praise with only very occasional dips in quality.
If you’ve been on the fence about giving this album a shot because you’re one of the folks who assumes that Cradle of Filth was just going to continue doing what they’ve done for the better part of fifteen years, give this a shot. ‘Hammer of the Witches’ deserves to be in the company of ‘Dusk and Her Embrace’, ‘Vempire’‘ Cruelty and the Beast’, and that’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to say.
Words by: Daniel Jackson
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