Review by Gregory S. Burkart
Well, it's hard to say much about the world-famous metal outfit Cradle of Filth that hasn't already been hashed, re-hashed, trashed, fawned and flamed all over the media for the past decade... but hell, this is the first band I ever wrote about in a professional capacity some seven-odd years ago (shortly after the release of their beloved album Midian), so I have a bit of a soft spot for those Satan-lovin' slobs from the UK. Sure, I've heard it all before... about them being sell-outs to the mainstream (which sometimes translates as ?they actually make a decent living?), and that they?ve lost the way of True Metal (by employing sophisticated production techniques). I hear the same whining about Dimmu Borgir, Satyricon and countless others, and as always I could give half a damn about what people think. These guys are uniquely creative showmen and know how to blow the doors off with godlike metal skills and Gothic horror-show theatrics.
Debuting in October 2006, Thornography is significant for having been released after a period of uncertainty for the group, as a lot of fans disparaged their previous release Nymphetamine, and online buzz suggested that singer/founder Dani Filth's announced decision to move even further away from their layered, technically complex sound in favor of a new thrash-based approach was troubling at best... not to mention the notion that Dani might record clean vocals (gasp!) on some tracks instead of his patented blend of high-pitched demon wails and deep, bestial growls.
Suffice to say their fans needn't have worried, as Thornography proved a force to be reckoned with, and received a fairly favorable reception. It felt as if the band had affectively cleaned the gunk out of their pipes with a solid, straightforward rhythm foundation, simpler melodies and more vocal variety, without losing the elements that most characterize their style: Dani's arch, darkly-poetic lyrics, massive symphonic interludes, angelic fills from operatic singer Sarah Jezebel Deva (now lead vocalist for Angtoria) and spoken-word passages from none other than Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley.
Yes, there were some bold, some would even say questionable moves ? for example, Dani does indeed employ melodic vocals for the first time on tracks like ?The Foetus of a New Day Kicking,? and gloomy goth heartthrob Ville Valo of HIM lends his somber suicidal tones to ?The Byronic Man.? And you know what? It mostly works... with just a couple of exceptions: what the hell were they thinking covering ?Temptation? by Heaven 17? It's an embarrassing track and an unfortunate summation to an otherwise enjoyable listening experience.
But that?s old news. With this month's release of Thornography as a ?Harder, Darker, Faster? deluxe edition, my few moments of disappointment were swept away in a storm of demonic glory in the form of six new tracks and other tasty metal morsels. The original CD release is now accompanied by a DVD-Audio package in the MVI format ? which seemed a bit technologically indulgent to me at first, but is actually pretty accessible, with a graphic interface chock-full of creepy concept art, from which you can play the original tracks as well as the new cuts in excellent 5.1 surround sound (or download them as MP3s) and screen some video content (including the silly music video for ?Foetus?). DVD-ROM extras include promotional photos, lyrics sheets and a downloadable version of the album booklet, not to mention ringtones, IM buddy icons and all that other stuff the kids seem to love nowadays.
An inventive toy on this disc is the ?Nu-Myx? feature, which despite its stupid name is a blast to experiment with, enabling you to completely remix the songs ?Lovesick for Mina? and ?Under Huntress Moon? and save them as MP3s. It's not the most user-friendly interface at first, but once I got used to it I was flailing away at tracks like a deranged sonic butcher ? much like I do in my own studio.
Bells and whistles aside, those six extra cuts are the real reason to pick up this release: the instrumental ?Murder in the Thirst? is one of the band's most cinematic works to date, in keeping with their reputation of creating cool scores for the most expensive horror epics never made. Other original tracks include the excellently sinister ?The Snake-Eyed and the Venomous,? some of Dani's best screeching ever on ?Courting Baphomet? and a nostalgic return to the familiar speed-riffage and blastbeats on ?Devil to the Metal,? which is probably as close to the band's earlier period as they get on this collection. On a less effective note, they even throw in a couple of cover songs: Dani does a goofy take on The Misfits' ?Halloween II,? and is joined by female vocalist Dirty Harry for a remake of ?Stay? by Shakespear's Sister... a moodier and slightly more appealing duet than the abysmal ?Temptation,? on which Harry?s vocals reminded me way too much of Lita Ford for my liking.
Despite the absence of once-promised live video footage, this is still a worthy addition to any Cradle fan's collection, and should please fans of horror, Gothic and occult-themed metal in general. It's not a classic on the level of Midian or Cruelty and the Beast, but it's a creative step in the right direction for one of British metal's most hardworking and battle-scarred bands. Plus at fifteen bucks, it's not that much of a risk anyway. Check it out.