As you can see from earlier posts on this message board, Cradle of Filth have been the subject of much conversation lately. In fact, even some of the members have said Cradle isn't and has never been a true black metal band. And now that these seven Brits have released their second slickly-produced album on a major label, have a MySpace page, and have been in talks with MTV and Hot Topic, "sell out" rumors are running rampant. But this writer's opinion is this is yet another case of a band tweaking its sound without selling out. This has happened so often that I'm getting tired of writing these reviews. Yes, Cradle of Filth did sound a lot more raw and in line with traditional black metal on their debut, 1994's "The Principal of Evil Made Flesh." But what everyone needs to realize is, even though they have crossed the line into mainstream territory, they can still shred as mightily as ever before. On all six of their full length releases previous to this one, COF have seamlessly crafted together gothic overtones, haunting and usually symphonic ambience, brutal extreme metal, imaginative, conceptual lyrics, high amounts of drama and an occasional dash of humor. And their new full length, this year's "Thornography" (a second for Roadrunner), is, of course, the same way. In fact, if anything slightly hinders "Thornography," it's that it can sometimes be a tad bit on the familiar and/or predictable side. For example, Dani's Filth's vocal range--piercing shrieks and low bellows--hasn't changed or matured whatsoever. But one needn't worry that it's a carbon copy of everything else they've already released, because a few new ingredients are brought to the table here, such as guitar soloing (!), and various Iron Maiden-esque harmonies (yep, you read that right).
"Thornography" begins with an expected orchestral overture, "Under Pregnant Skies She Comes Alive Like Miss Leviathan." Tracks like this are pretty standard for a Cradle of Filth album, but it's nonetheless ominous and bone-chilling. "Tonight In Flames" and "Cemetery and Sundown" are also standouts because they take on a new, unique, and daring approach. The former has a clean vocal refrain and piano mid-section, whereas the latter features several melodic hooks and even a vague pop appeal. And the closer, "Temptation," an entirely unexpected yet decent cover of a romantic song originally written by Heaven 17, is perhaps the record's biggest surprise.
The rest of the disc, however, is much different. Track two, "Dirge Inferno," is an all out onslaught of driving blast beats, and catchy, punching twin guitar riffs. Despite being kind of groove-oriented, "I Am The Thorn" is a blistering thrashfest with shredding riffs, rapid fire double bass kicks, and four lengthy, careening solos. "Lovesick For Mina" is vintage Cradle of Filth-it perfectly balances restrained, well-placed melody (i.e. soft strumming, cool piano keys, violins, and spoken word vocals) and unabashed, bludgeoning metal (with blasting drums and strong, fiery leads). "Rise of the Pentagram" utilizes a similarly great dynamic, and places gentle synths, choral vocals (in the background), and what sounds like a church organ alongside smoking, buzzsaw guitar parts. This song is also a highlight because it's almost entirely instrumental, aside from the creepy and somewhat nasty spoken word poem (about sex, the Garden of Eden, serpents, blasphemy, etc.) at the beginning. Lastly of note is "Under Huntress Moon," which boasts bulldozing, earthquake riffs, a deeply grumbling bass line, and insanely fast, pounding skins.
Though "Thornography" isn't quite as epic or innovative as some of their earlier works (like, say, 2003's "Damnation and a Day"), it is substantially more expansive than 2004's "Nymphetamine," because COF definitely took a few new musical strides here. These strides have disgusted many longtime fans and black metal purists and are sure to alienate some newcomers. But the fact of the matter is, aside from a couple experimental moments, this album is surprisingly easy to digest and will satiate those who long to hear what they're used to hearing: full-fledged brutality and face-melting intensity. Thus, "Thornography" is NOT a ruination of the signature, legendary sound Cradle of Filth started establishing over a decade ago; this is the same band you've always known and loved.