This ought to be a lucky thirteenth studio album for professional British thorns in the side of society Cradle of Filth. The concept this time is a surprisingly grounded one for them, being, in Dani Filth's words, about "existential terror. The threat of everything. The end of the world, the end of one's life, existential dread." In other words, it speaks to now, the only counter to the negative given being "A little hope, I guess, in there" as well.
And, in keeping with the apocalyptic Hieronymous Bosch-inspired cover art by Arthur Berzinsh, it's an appropriately busy sonic interpretation of our collective demise as a species, trawling in a whole slew of musical influences from across the extreme genre map in characteristic Cradle of Filth style. This is a vibrant apocalypse, one that's impossible to ignore, which is surely much of the point. How come we seem to be so good at ignoring ours?
The Fate of the World on Our Shoulders kicks off the album like the symphonic intro to a horror movie, which is a pretty appropriate way to start. It's a little Hans Zimmer and a little Danny Elfman, epic but playful. Then we move into classic Carl Orff territory. There are Dani Filth's unmistakable vocals. And a bouncy extreme metal hybrid sound that's such a fascinating creature to dissect. It's fast and frenetic but it's built on powerful riffs and fascinating songwriting.
I absolutely adore bands like Cradle of Filth who are simply impossible to stuff into a simple subgenre labelled box. This one comes across a lot like Therion in their heyday combined with a commercial era Satyricon, like an unholy union of Enter Vril Ya and K.I.N.G. But then there's the Zimmer feel to render it epic and a layer of othic texture that's not only overt in the soaring and clean female voice of new fish Anabelle Iratni, who also contributes keyboards and lyre. This apocalypse is draped in velvet just as much as it is blood and fire. It's heavy, of course, and it gets fast at points and faster at others, but it's enticing as well, especially during Discourse Between a Man and His Soul.
So, if you just have to label everything, this could be called epic gothic black heavy symphonic extreme metal. Or something like that. The symphonic is obvious from the very beginning of Existential Terror, the epic gradually takes over as we go and the black manifests itself most obviously during a frenetic chase to the finalé. But even that description isn't enough, because there's almost some exotica early in Necromantic Fantasies. Crawling King Chaos adds church organ and chanting narrative, guitars like buzzsaws in harmony, epochal drumming and vocals like a swarm of murder hornets. There's a heck of a lot to discover here on what has to be the most emphatic Cradle of Filth album in forever.
It's hard to even pick a favourite track. Existential Terror was clearly going to be mine from the outset, but I hadn't heard anything else at that point. As it went, Necromantic Fantasies made me wonder if I was being premature. Crawling King Chaos underlined that I was and The Dying of the Embers was the one that emphatically took over from it as my favourite, a delicious spoken word intro escalating even more deliciously into an old school heavy metal song that becomes extreme and playful and blistering in turn. It even ends as deliciously as it began. It's an absolute peach of a song.
If there's a flaw here, it's that the album runs long, over seventy minutes, and it doesn't sustain that level of imagination throughout. That's not to say that the second half is bad or poor or even just OK, especially with my favourite song to kick it off and a neat if brief instrumental interlude to follow. I'm rather partial to Suffer Our Dominion and Us, Dark, Invincible is growing on me, but, both on my first and subsequent listens, I find myself tuning out during some of the later tracks, something I never do during the first half.
This is still a major Cradle of Filth album though. It's the best I've heard from them in a long time and I can't remember when they were this vibrant and urgent and relishing in both of those things. I think I have to go with the first half as a 9/10 and the second as a still decent 7/10, so averaging out the album as a still highly recommended 8/10. If you're into extreme metal and don't care about staying within a particular subgenre boundary, this ought to be essential.