Cradle of Filth is, without question, Britain's most popular, adventurous, funniest, and theatrical alternative metal band (they've actually smiled in photos in full corpse paint). They've been blogged about endlessly, and most recently about not being in the least bit a "black metal band" anymore but merely a good metal band -- they seldom wear corpse paint; they've been interviewed by MTV; a MySpace page (not run by them); and lead singer Dani Filth sometimes goes by his real name Dani Davey now. Whatever. Cradle of Filth are not a good metal band; they are a great one. Over six previous full-lengths they've been able to make seamless the melding of gothic textures, symphonic music, drama and dynamics, bone-shattering death metal, high concept theater, great production, and humor. In short, they may be mainstream these days, but they can still shred the pants off just about any body musically.
Thornography follows Nymphetamine on the Roadrunner label and is produced by Rob Cagganio. And the band is intact with guests like the inimitable Sarah Jezebel Deva of Angtoria. While it's true that the new title doesn't match the last one (it was so brilliant, how could it?), the music certainly does. A deep, creepy gothic intro titled "Under Pregnant Skies She Comes Alive Like Miss Leviathan" (written by Chris and Tommy Rehn of Angtoria) that would have improved upon the one in the original Hellraiser film, with big choirs, huge organs and strings, it's almost Wagnerian in scope and sets the tone for those bludgeoning twin guitars and blasted drum work on "Dirge Inferno" (which is anything but). Dani Filth is as entertaining as ever as s singer, sounding somewhere between Cookie Monster with a razor stuck in his throat and Chris D. of the L.A. horror-punk band of yesteryear the Flesh Eaters. But it wouldn't matter if Miss Piggy were fronting this unit, they are so utterly accomplished as a metal band musically. Check "Tonight in Flames" with its references to the great metallic bands of the past for evidence. But Dani serves another purpose because he's so utterly entertaining. "Libertina Grimm" weds Lovecraftian horror filtered through Vincent Price kitsch, wedded to Sade-ian pornography via blistering metal: "God was six days sober/On the night that she was born/To the glistening star of a bible class/An icon now in religious porn." Offended? What did you expect from a band called Cradle of Filth? "Sweet Child O' Mine"?
This might be offensive if it could at all be taken seriously. Offense is the point, but so is the fun of classic horror. Better is "The Byronic Man," which follows. It's such an intensely high gothic concept, lamenting Lord Byron's fate and celebrating his many alleged crimes against culture, the church and the aristocracy: "As lonely as a poet on the walls of Jericho/Or the moon without the comfort of the stars/I am loathe to know it that a man without a soul/Is nothing but a spilt canopic jar/I proved it, improved it/Drove a sonnet right through it..." But none of this would matter if this band couldn't write songs, and be so utterly full of the dark side of Halloween and rock the joint to the cracked cement foundation. Who cares what the street thinks about them? Cradle of Filth have been trying to be the evil version of Queen for ten of their 15-year history. Whether its Edwardian decadence, classless humor, power metal in overdriven fury or over-the-top satire disguised as transgression; COF are so very consistent and sophisticated musically and sonically that they are virtually untouchable and in a class of their own -- which is where, make no mistake, they always wanted to be.
Other standout tracks on this set include "Cemetery and Sundown," with its woven vocal choruses, deep rumbling bass riffs, and melody line like something off the Damned's Black Album. The unhinged "Foetus of a New Day Kicking" simply kicks ass in the way that Venom did on their debut album with riffs as sledgehammer-like as early Iron Maiden. But nothing quite prepares the listener, whether old loyal fan or newfangled bandwagon jumper, for the cover of Heaven 17's "Temptation" that closes the record and, in addition, is the album's first single and video. Who said Satanic heavy metal bands couldn't crack a joke? Whether this will be the last straw for the COF faithful and/or win them an entirely new legion of fans is anybody's guess, but let's just say by the sound of Thornography, COF are aiming at playing an arena near you sometime in the near future.