Declaring this their “Tenth Commandment in Metal,” UK legends (and long-time FEARnet faves) Cradle of Filth have diverged from their usual game plan of sweeping concept albums, choosing this time to divide and conquer a wide assortment of sinister subjects – everything from classics of erotic literature to creepy fairy tales, monsters of myth & legend, the timeless horrors of H.P. Lovecraft, and a few beasts of their very own creation. While all of this falls within the band's usual lyrical domain, their songwriting and production approach on The Manticore calls back to their '90s black metal origins, while retaining just enough of the band's well-known cinematic elements to keep their gothic stamp on it. “We have diversified and kept alive the spirit of this band,” says band frontman & founder Dani Filth, “and breathed it into something that I can proudly say, slays like an absolute motherfucker.” Sounds like a fairly confident statement to me.
Now obviously there are nay-sayers who declare the band has been trying in vain to reanimate the colossal beast they once were, but they're probably not reading this review anyhow. I'm not a member of the COF haters club anyway, because I've been mostly impressed with their recent career phase – particularly Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa, which recalled many elements of Midian, my all-time favorite Cradle album. Dani and the gang have stayed in that same groove for their tenth full-length outing; if anything, they're tapping into their old vibe even more here... or maybe it just feels that way after their interesting non-metal experiment Midnight in the Labyrinth, which focused almost entirely on the gothy theatrics alone. Even within the domain of blackened death metal, which is the musical engine behind Manticore, they're still expert at crafting mini-symphonies, even if with screeches, growls and muscular riffs at the front of all the sweetly sinister choirs and velvety keyboards, but it's refreshing to have some of that linking material pulled back a bit this time around. As the band's first non-concept piece in many years, the album also allows Dani to expand his lyrical scope and weave a distinct story with each song, indulging his literary obsessions with mythical monsters and devilish human impulses.
The instrumental opener "The Unveiling of O" takes its title from the pages of Pauline Réage's The Story of O, a still-controversial novel considered one of the defining works of the modern S&M lifestyle. Not unusual terrain for a band who often style themselves as sexually ravenous Cenobite-like beings, but it's a seductive intro to an otherwise frighteningly raw and aggressive record, as you will know instantly when "The Abhorrent” kicks in. While Dani has gone down a more melodic vocal path in the recent past (starting around the time of Thornography), he takes a slightly more gruff approach in this song, and he's backed by some of the album's best riffage, along with some blazing tempo change-ups and a hurricane of drums. But that's just a warmup, it seems, because the band gets downright thrashy on "For Your Vulgar Delectation,” a barn-burner that the band unveiled a while ago to many fans' delight:
Church organ and choirs make only a brief appearance in "Illicitus" before being dashed cruelly aside by dueling riffs and Paul Allender's smoldering tremolo picking, though there's also a sweet organ and piano break. The title track "Manticore" focuses on a specific legend, described by Dani as a “beautiful mythological horror that comes to be feared as the disfigurehead of foreign occupation in the Indian provinces.” It's also a no-bullshit slab of pure blackened death metal with an incredibly dark middle section, as you can hear below:
Another superb entry is "Frost on Her Pillow,” which the band has chosen for their next music video, as you can see at the end of this article... and you'll also hear one of the album's hookiest riffs, making for a rock-solid single. One slight departure from the norm is "Huge Onyx Wings Behind Despair,” a semi-industrial concoction accented by buzzing sci-fi synths and rapid-fire symphonic samples... but don't be misled, it's also one of the most blistering cuts on the record. "Pallid Reflection” is one of the most melodic offerings, with cool harmonized vocals in the chorus and slightly cleaner, brassier guitar progressions. Another keeper reminiscent of the band's defining years, “Siding with the Titans" is more old-school Filth, simultaneously summoning black metal's rage and death metal's power, with a similar feel to some of my old faves like “Suicide and Other Comforts.” The album's metal content concludes explosively in "Succumb to This,” which features some of the best all-around vocal work, with Dani blending various styles in sync with female vocals. It fades into the aptly-titled "Sinfonia,” a sweeping instrumental driven by a powerful grand piano, where the bulk of the album's gothic material is gathered. It's an elegant piece on its own, but also nicely closes the museum doors on the band's latest exhibit of larger-than-life musical curiosities.
Like I said before, there are few extreme metal bands more polarizing than Cradle of Filth, and it will probably always be that way. I've always enjoyed their weaving of different musical textures and theatrical presentation, while others might say that stuff has been overshadowing of the foundations of true metal that were so prominent on classics like Dusk and Her Embrace. I like it best when the two halves are in perfect balance, and I think it was high time for the scales to tip in favor of the mighty riffs. Maybe it's just nostalgia (after all, I first discovered Cradle on a cold, gray October day just like this one), or maybe it's the new Filth phase. Time will tell, but I like what I'm hearing so far. Check it out when it drops on October 30th and let us know if you agree.
In the meantime, check out the wicked vid for "Frost on Her Pillow"...