Cradle Of Filth - Hammer of the Witches
Nuclear Blast
Blackened Symphonic Metal
11 songs (56:08)
Release year: 2015
Cradle Of Filth, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

Given that Midian and Damnation and a Day were milestones on my path into enjoying extreme metal, Cradle of Filth hold a special place in my heart. As long-term fans will be aware, however, the band's studio output is the very definition of hit-or-miss, and before reviewing the re-release of their Total Fucking Darkness demo around this time last year, I hadn't listened to them since 2008's Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder. So you'll understand what a pleasant surprise Hammer of the Witches is, how genuinely heavy it is, how well-written, and above all, how darn metal it is. The changes in the band have worked incredibly – new guitarists Rich Shaw (who has apparently been playing guitar for nearly two decades) and Ashok (Marek Šmerda, most notably of underrated Czech second-wave wizards Root) play their hearts out, providing solid Maidenesque riffs and solos aplenty throughout. New keyboardist Lindsay Schoolcraft provides an often beautiful Gothic backdrop to the upfront heaviness as well as lovely backing vocals, while bassist Daniel Firth and drummer Martin Škaroupka are as solid as ever. Dani Filth is, of course, himself, and still represents the biggest barrier to enjoyment for many an extreme metalhead – his goblin shriek is less irritating here than it has been in the past, often lower and deeper as his voice ages well, but those put off previously will remain so...

...Which is unfortunate, because this is the best Cradle have sounded in years. I'd say this is their best album since Damnation (with the obvious caveat of not having heard a few) and the best-produced, too, definitely beating Damnation's murky sound thanks to Stampin' Ground's Scott Atkins, who has produced the band's last few releases. The interlude pieces are suitably Gothic yet restrained and worth listening to, the tracks vary from five to seven minutes, there is a complete and utter lack of lame The Death of Love-esque pop nonsense, the cover art is the best its been in years. Dani even left his daughter at home! And from the first track proper, the utterly furious and blasting Yours Immortally, which goes from textured blackened Gothic assault to thrashy metal whiplash and back again, it's hard not to be seriously impressed. The hooks are buried enough not to dominate, but provide a pleasant counterpart to the heaviness, and despite the track containing two breakdowns neither feels overly modern or out of place.

It's good, in other words, and the band go on to prove it isn't some sort of mistake. Twin-guitar melodies are all over the place, as are the aforementioned solos, which as Enshrined in Crematoria and The Vampyre at My Side show add a dimension to Cradle of Filth that you didn't know you were missing. The symphonic elements are wonderfully placed, making the likes of Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess epic rampages, and giving the already doom-tinged Blackest Magick in Practice an extra bit of gloom between the track's kicks into high gear. That's the downside, apart from the odd unusual riff Cradle aren't really doing anything new here – still, considering that in the past 'Cradle doing something new' has included collaborations with Dirty Harry and a goddamn Heaven 17 cover, do we really care? The closest thing to pure catchiness here is first single Right Wing of the Garden Triptych, which has infectious keyboard hooks and extra female vocals but doesn't let up on the actual metallic content, hitting black metal speed quickly and featuring plenty of Her Ghost in the Fog-esque Gothic piano tinkling. Even the video is surprisingly good, managing to be appropriately gloomy with black and white projected shots of the band and some sort of rope bondage model.

By the time you've reached the end of the album, with late-album pieces as good as Onward Christian Soldiers with the extra dose of classical-influenced melodies and brooding outro Blooding the Hounds of Hell, it's hard not to think that Cradle of Filth have made one of their greatest albums yet. The band have definitely risen above their sub-par outings of late, more than banishing the likes of Thornography in an album that hasn't been matched since Midian. Barring the upcoming Iron Maiden, in fact, it's hard to see a band producing anything that's as much a return to form as Hammer of the Witches is. Even Filthophobes should give this a try.

Killing Songs :
All are good, but Yours Immortally, Blackest Magick in Practise, Right Wing of the Garden Triptych, and Onward Christian Soldiers are the best
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Cradle Of Filth that we have reviewed:
Cradle Of Filth - Existence is Futile reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Cradle Of Filth - Total Fucking Darkness reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Cradle Of Filth - Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa reviewed by Kyle and quoted 64 / 100
Cradle Of Filth - Godspeed On The Devil's Thunder reviewed by Goat and quoted 81 / 100
Cradle Of Filth - Thornography reviewed by Goat and quoted 63 / 100
To see all 14 reviews click here
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