Eleven years on from the release of their debut album, Suffolk’s CRADLE OF FILTH have returned with their eleventh studio album Hammer Of The Witches.
Kicking off with atmospheric tracks has been a staple of the band for many years now, and this time is no different – Walpurgis Eve builds up slowly, with creepy piano and a foreboding string arrangement that eventually crescendos into the album’s true opener Yours Immortally – a thrashy number that sees vocalist Dani Filth at his venomous best. Enshrined In Crematoria starts off fairly slow, before kicking off at a breakneck pace, courtesy of Martin “Marthus” Škaroupka’s galloping drumbeats.
That CRADLE OF FILTH can come out with an album of such quality at this point in their career is nothing short of remarkable. As is now a running joke, the band underwent another set of lineup changes during the recording of Hammer Of The Witches, leaving Filth as the sole remaining original member. Luckily his new recruits are more than up to the task – gone again is Paul Allender, replaced by new guitarists Richard Shaw and Ashok, bringing a welcome return to the dual-guitar sound many fans had been craving; and new keyboardist Lindsay Schoolcraft makes a stunning album debut, having been with the group as a live member since 2013.
Despite these changes, Hammer Of The Witches remains very much a typical CRADLE OF FILTH album. Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess is nearly seven minutes of near-unrelenting symphonic insanity, whilst Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych fuses crushingly heavy guitar riffs with gorgeously melodic vocals from Schoolcraft, which are distinctly reminiscent of classic singles Her Ghost In The Fog and Nymphetamine.
By the time the album’s last proper track Onward Christian Soldiers, kicks in, Filth’s vocals have reached banshee-shriek levels of intensity – to the point where you can almost hear his voice cracking under the strain. It’s another seven-minute epic, with more tempo changes than most bands manage in a whole album, but CRADLE OF FILTH make it seem all too effortless. Album closer Blooding The Hounds Of Hell genuinely feels like the type of song you’d find playing over the end credits of a fantasy movie, finally allowing the listener a welcome respite to take in what they’ve just heard.
Overall, it’s quite difficult to find fault with Hammer Of The Witches. In terms of sheer performance, the new lineup seems to have reignited CRADLE OF FILTH’S passion for metal, and the band have produced arguably their strongest album in a decade as a result. Hopefully they’ll manage to keep the same lineup for another album this time.