The metallic coven instituted by one of the most important Extreme Metal bands of all time keeps haunting our world with their thrilling and malevolent music.
I don’t understand why some people are so skeptical when British Extreme Metal behemoths Cradle of Filth are about to release a new album. Despite some very few letdowns, and I’m not talking about entire albums but just one or another song, Dani Filth and his sinful horde have always delivered first-class dark music, where the combination of symphony, heaviness, controversial themes and intricate and deranged lyrics goes beyond what almost all metal bands in the world can do. And now joining their collection of perversity, which includes masterpieces such as Cruelty and the Beast, Midian, Damnation and a Day and Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder, we have Hammer Of The Witches, the eleventh studio album in their distinguished career and, more important than that, another solid display of black magic by one of the most important extreme bands from the past decades.
The album is named after the Malleus Maleficarum, a medieval document of guidelines regarding the persecution and torture of witches, just for you to have an idea of how obscure Hammer Of The Witches is. In regards to the artwork, designed by Latvian artist Arthur Berzinsh, Dani mentioned in one of his interviews that it is “a lavish walk-through of the lyricism, drawing on rich renaissance themes and displaying them in beautiful-yet-unsettling scenarios. Half of the detailed pieces are totally original for the release, others are Berzinsh classics cunningly tailored to the themes of the album, which are themes rife with heady witchcraft, be it persecution, retribution or unfettered spiritual liberation. The female form is rampant throughout the artwork, unashamedly displayed in its classical rendition of beauty… and horror.” In my humble opinion, that stylish explanation summarizes not only the imagery, but also the music found in the album. You can also see Dani giving more details about it in this official interview on YouTube.
Is there a better way to start a Cradle of Filth album than with one of their traditional intros, like Walpurgis Eve? This is already a good sign that the album will be kick-ass, which is confirmed when the havoc begins in Yours Immortally…, a song that perfectly represents the mix of raw Black Metal and traditional Heavy Metal only Dani & Co. can provide us. In addition, while Dani delivers his trademark high-pitched demonic screams, Martin “Marthus” Škaroupka keeps improving his importance in the bestial sounding crafted by the band. Enshrined In Crematoria has its good and bad moments, the good ones happening when they speed up the rhythm and the guitar riffs by Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Šmerda lead an awesome sonic attack, whereas its slow parts sound too bland and generic; followed by Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess, with its musicality containing elements from Midian and The Manticore and Other Horrors boosted by some crazy guitar solos. Moreover, I guess I don’t need to say Dani is by far one of the best lyricists of all time (“Religion caw epistles / Twisted laws extend their thristles / A crown to justify / Our place atop this hellbound carriage”), and Lindsay Schoolcraft not only delivers some wicked keyboard notes but her smooth and powerful voice also adds a lot of passion to the song.
Blackest Magick In Practice showcases a beautiful and melancholic start, focusing on Symphonic Gothic Metal without losing the band’s characteristic ferociousness. Its guitar riffs couldn’t sound more amazing, and Dani’s vocals sound great during the entire track, it doesn’t matter if he’s simply screaming like a demon or delivering his deeper dark growls. Then the band offers us the calm but somber intro The Monstrous Sabbat (Summoning The Coven), right before the title-track Hammer Of The Witches comes ripping with its imposing sounding where the keyboards by Lindsay get a lot more focus. It’s the most symphonic of all tracks so far, an awesome feast of the Symphonic Black Metal that longtime fans of the band learned to love. I have to say the initial “electronic” seconds in Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych (check the uncensored version of the official video HERE, it’s much better than the censored one on YouTube) scared the hell out of me especially because this was the first single released, but fortunately that was just a quick intro as the music itself is simply outstanding, varying from sheer brutality to gentle piano passages. Dani is absolutely on fire with his diabolic screams as well as Marthus and his wicked blast beats, not to mention the band’s Stygian lyrics being a delight for fans of devilish music as always (“Unforgiving proof accrual begs this cruel rebirth / A living fuel for the blaze of renewal, razing the earth / Pariahs and Messiahs of the highest worth / Fodder for the denizens of risen, hissing Hell”).
It’s not a true Cradle of Filth release without a ghoulish song about vampires, and in Hammer Of The Witches that comes to light (or darkness) in The Vampyre At My Side, an old school Cradle of Filth tune where you can feel the music rising to its climax amidst rawer moments in which the guitar riffs get thrashier than usual. Do I need to say anything about yet another excellent performance by Dani and Marthus? Anyway, the organ intro in the next song, Onward Christian Soldiers, generates a somber atmosphere perfect for the dense and violent exhibit of modern Extreme Metal that follows. This is one of the best tracks of the album (if not the best), a stunning epic composition with lots of variations where its riffs remind me of some of their songs from the brilliant Dusk… and Her Embrace. And finally, Blooding The Hounds Of Hell is a more-than-suitable symphonic outro to close all the stories told throughout the album, transpiring sorrow and darkness.
You can choose your version of the album at the Nuclear Blast webstore, but if I were you I would definitely purchase one of the special editions that come with two bonus tracks, King Of The Woods and Misericord, as they’re both savage and erotic. Based on the magnificent witchcraft found in Hammer Of The Witches, it looks like the metallic coven instituted by Cradle of Filth, who are in their best shape of the past few years, will keep haunting our world with their thrilling music for many years to come.
Best moments of the album: Yours Immortally…, Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych, The Vampyre At My Side and Onward Christian Soldiers.
Worst moments of the album: Enshrined in Crematoria.
Released in 2015 Nuclear Blast
1. Walpurgis Eve 1:29
2. Yours Immortally… 6:00
3. Enshrined In Crematoria 5:46
4. Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess 6:59
5. Blackest Magick In Practice 6:50
6. The Monstrous Sabbat (Summoning The Coven) 1:51
7. Hammer Of The Witches 6:28
8. Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych 5:54
9. The Vampyre At My Side 5:45
10. Onward Christian Soldiers 6:59
11. Blooding The Hounds Of Hell 2:10
Deluxe Edition bonus tracks
12. King Of The Woods 6:17
13. Misericord 6:19
Dani Filth – lead vocals
Richard Shaw – guitars
Marek “Ashok” Šmerda – guitars
Daniel Firth – bass
Lindsay Schoolcraft – female vocals, keyboards
Martin “Marthus” Škaroupka – drums