Love them or hate them, United Kingdom's Cradle of Filth have been a fixture on the extreme metal scene for the past two decades. While the band's use of provocative imagery (and one-time major record deal) often led to accusations of form over substance from underground purists, the music underneath the make-up, titillating album covers and borderline softcore porn t-shirt designs remained surprisingly good, if far removed from the black metal leanings of "Principles of Evil Made Flesh" or "Dusk... and Her Embrace". Cradle of Filth's latest album, "The Manticore and Other Horrors", may not bring back the black metal purists, but it still offers an enjoyable ride for metal fans with diverse taste in extreme music.
For much "Manticore"'s eleven tracks (two of which are keyboard-driven intro and outro pieces), the band, now reduced to creative core of mainman Dani Filth, guitarist Paul Allender, and drummer Martin Skaroupka, plays an aggressive form of metal that is neither black, death, nor gothic, but has touches of all three. The songs tend to stay on relatively short (for Cradle of Filth) side, with none exceeding six minute mark. In the context of the album, this is a positive development, as it gives the material a focused feel in contrast to more meandering approach the band was guilty of in the past.
This approach also brings out individual strengths of each song, as there are hooks aplenty to be found here, with "Frost On Her Pillow", "Huge Onyx Wings Behind Despair", "Illicitus" and the title track being particularly memorable. While some of Cradle of Filth's contemporaries may opt for more symphonic or more aggressive approach, "Manticore" balances the two to good effect, resulting in songs that escape self-indulgent leanings of the genre without sacrificing the aggression. Some of the riffs have pronounced thrash metal feel ("The Abhorrent"), and there are enough blast beats and fast sections to ensure this will never be confused for easy listening muzak. Even Dani Filth's forays into clean vocals are appropriately layered with black metalish rasps and low growls to maintain the music's edge ("For Your Vulgar Delectation"). The occasional use of female vocals is sufficiently prominent to give additional flavor to the songs, but not overdone to the point of usurping the spotlight.
The discussion of vocals brings the album's primary issue to the fore. Over the years, Dani Filth's inimitable style became the band's trademark, instantly separating them from sound-alikes and imitators. While he still growls, hisses, and even occasionally reaches for his customary high-pitched howls through "Manticore"'s fifty-plus minutes, the vocals feel reined in. At times, Dani's voice seems to have lost a bit of his earlier edge, as underlined by the amount of clean, semi-spoken vocals. Often it gives an impression of an easy way out, when more challenging vocal approach might have contributed more to the songs, as if years of vocal acrobatics are finally starting to take their toll. Parts of "Manticore" feel like experimentation with different, less dexterous singing style, and the album loses some intensity as a result, although it is by no means a major detriment to the enjoyment of the record.
Despite what many believe, this is not gothic metal as defined by the likes of Moonspell, Theatre of Tragedy, or even Paradise Lost – the most "gothic" thing about Cradle of Filth is the imagery and the lyrical content. Musically, the band remains firmly in melodic extreme metal scene, and still has much to offer. The fans of Cradle of Filth's recent efforts will find much to like here, and even casual listeners, or those who discarded the band during their major label sojourn, may be converted back into the fold.