Cradle of Filth return with their first album under their new record label, Nuclear Blast, titled Hammer of the Witches. Throughout their long career so far they have continuously split opinion being called “satanic” by some and “not satanic enough” by others. The rest of us think they are mostly pretty amazing so I am genuinely pleased and excited to hear this first new material in three years.
It has been three years since Cradle released their last album, The Manticore and Other Horrors, and a lot has happened to them in the meantime. Last year guitarists Paul Allender and James McIllroy quit the band. Live performances were filled in by Marek ‘Ashok’ Šmerda (ex Root) and Richard Shaw (ex Emperor Chung) with these guys eventually joining the band full time. Lindsay Schoolcraft also joined the band providing keyboards, harp and female vocals. Dani Filth also spent a fair bit of time working on vocals for Devilment, a band he recently joined on vocals so with all that happening, it was a huge relief when Hammer of the Witches was given a concrete release date and subsequently the band announced a full album tour.
Hammer of the Witches is a concept album of sorts that uses the Malleus Maleficarum as inspiration. The Malleus Maleficarum is a treatise on the prosecution of witches written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer. Among many other things it describes the correct way to prosecute and punish witches. In this album though, Cradle of Filth turn things on their head and put “the hammer” in the hands of the witches.
The album starts off with a reasonably short intro called Walpurgis Eve which is purely instrumental. It sets the scene though and is both eerie and atmospheric making good use of gothic choir singing in the background and a violin leading from the foreground.
Yours Immortally is the first full length track on the album and is an instant classic. It is ferociously fast for most of the song and is a real showpiece for the excellent drumming and keyboards on show throughout the whole album. It starts at hyper speed as Dani screams in his high pitch voice. The pace is relentless and Dani’s voice and many different ranges are used to their full. Lots of little intricate guitar leads pull the song and the chorus is really catchy. Near the end there are some female vocals thrown in before a wonderfully eerie orchestral choir singing over guitars before the song explodes back into frantic pace until the end. This song is brilliant. Cradle at their finest.
Enshrined in Crematoria comes next and has a broody, deeper intro following a darker, low toned and more bassy rhythm but still moves at pace throughout the verses. A more rhythmic growl from Dani over lead guitars fills the choruses though and this song also has an excellent guitar solo near the end that leads into some angrily spat lyrics and then jumps straight into a full on blazingly fast guitar solo before switching back to the overall deeper riff of the bulk of the song. It ends by slowing down into an orchestral piece with keyboards taking over. Another really strong song.
The longest name for a song on the album goes to track 4 which is Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess. It is also the joint longest track on this album at just less than 7 minutes though most tracks average around 6 mins. Dani screams for a good ten seconds over the introduction which then explodes out of nowhere into a frenetic explosion of instruments. The drums are amazingly fast and the vocals match them at times. The bass is really prominent here in a good way and the song switches tempo every 30 seconds or so. This is everything that I love about Cradle. The song is so heavy at times but also manages to drop long rhythmic sections in as well as female vocals and mesmerizingly fast guitar solo. Suddenly after 4 mins, it just switches into orchestral keyboards which are quickly joined by a twisting lead guitar and Dani’s more sung growls. Another very old school guitar solo finishes off this section and then leads us straight into another switch to a bass lead, low toned, rhythmic snarling and shouting section. Dani’s voice increases higher and higher in pitch before the guitar takes over from him and leads us through another solo. Truly amazing.
The Monstrous Sabbat (Summoning the Coven) is up next and is another short instrumental, atmosphere builder. It acts as the introduction to the 7th track and is a delicate combination of harps and keyboard effects which build in volume and intensity before becoming a powerful display of horns, harp and violins that seem to scream caution.
The previous musical intro leads straight into the title track, Hammer of the Witches. It starts with an intriguing riff and superb, rolling thunder sounding drum that is soon joined by waving keyboards and eventually the full force and range of Dani’s screams and guttural l vocals. The lead guitars on this song sound fantastic and very early on your get the sense you are listening to something epic. There are some excellent change ups in the track where angrily spoken female lyrics take over before Dani jumps back in again. The song speeds up dramatically after a few minutes reaching really heavy moments where the drumming is unbelievable and as it nears the end there are bells and all sorts going off before it jumps back into the past with a bass line straight from the days off The Principle of Evil Made Flesh. Make no mistake; this song is up there with the best Cradle songs ever released.
Following on from that epic track comes Right Wing of the Garden Triptych and if the previous song was pure classic Cradle, this song perfectly showcases their heavier side, although with a sprinkling of experimentation. That experimentation comes mainly in the intro which starts off with a single keyboard note followed by female lyrics sung softly that is suddenly joined by thundering drums. As the intro fades the song becomes brutally heavy for almost the entire song except for one or two slowdowns where we are treated to eerie keyboards and both male and female spoken word or slowly sung sections. A huge guitar solo near the end leads into a final minute of head banging rhythm that eventually ends with female lyrics just like the intro. Great stuff.
The Vampyre at my Side is next up and starts with a slower rhythm to much of the album though that is soon left behind to those excellent drums again and Dani once again extending his full range of vocals. The lead guitars on this song are superb as well and really seem to pull everything along with them brilliantly. This is backed up by a fantastic guitar solo near the end that drops into choir like singing with Dani bellowing over the top. It is quite astonishing how consistently fantastic these songs are.
The second to last track on the album is called Onward Christian Soldiers and is the joint longest on the album clocking in just less than 7 minutes. It has a slow operatic start with keyboards and effects leading in a very creepy, atmospheric fashion before an extended drum roll leads to an explosion of instruments and screams. The rhythm and pace of the vocals is infectious and every instrument seems prominent here leading to a really solid, epic feel. It’s a very heavy track but inter mixed with some little genius guitar leads and keyboards to break the track up. At around the 5 minute mark there is an exceptional section with Dani almost narrating in his familiar growls over a lead guitar that is perfection. Throw in probably the longest scream on the album that closes with choirs and whispers and what you have hear is pure brilliance.
Onward Christian Soldiers actually leads directly into the last track on the album which is called Blooding the Hounds of Hell and is really used as an album closer at just over two minutes long. Having said that, it closes the album brilliantly. It is slow, with choir singing and keyboards leading over a muffled drum followed by organs and violins. Other than choirs singing, it is purely instrumental and while not as amazing as the other songs on the album, when listened to as a direct join on to the previous track, it all becomes one exceptional track.
It is worth noting that on some versions of the album, there are a couple bonus tracks available though they have not been reviewed here.
This may be the most complete album Cradle of Filth has put out in years. It feels really energised and daring and pulls in memories of Dusk and Her Embrace, Cruelty and the Beast and Midian while not leaving their most recent stuff behind. Some of the tracks here like Onward Christian Soldiers and Hammer of the Witches are some of the best tracks I have ever heard from this band. What an excellent job and this is a genuine contender for album of the year. Don’t miss out on this. It is fantastic.
Cradle of Filth - Hammer of the Witches (Nuclear Blast)
The Final Score - 9/10
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