Artist: Cradle Of Filth
Album Title: Existence Is Futile
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 22 October 2021
My relationship with Cradle Of Filth has been well-documented on this website over the years, so I don’t propose to delve into it once again. Suffice to say that I have remained a fan of varying degrees regardless of the prevailing wind of popular opinion. Suffolk’s most famous extreme metal export have always divided opinion and for many, it has become ‘cool’ to proclaim a dislike for the band. Whether it is because of their musical direction, the comments of their outspoken frontman, Dani Filth, the never ending stream of merchandise that saturates the market, or something else, the utterance of the band name will usually provoke a reaction one way or the other.
Admittedly, there was a period between the release of ‘Midian’ in 2000 and ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ in 2015 where my interest seriously waned. In that decade and a half, no fewer than six records were released, each failing to ignite the same levels of enthusiasm in me than the likes of ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ or any of the first four albums did, and still do. Add the ‘Vempire’ EP to the list and there’s no denying the quality of the music to emanate from, in Dani’s own words, ‘the arse-end of nowhere’ at the beginning of their career.
Happily, ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ and 2017’s ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay’ have seen Cradle Of Filth very much on an upward trajectory, plundering a re-discovered rich vein of form. Even more pleasing, is the fact that the needle still seems to be buried deep in this same vein, as album number thirteen, ‘Existence Is Futile’ is another cracking release, and one that makes it all the more difficult for the haters to maintain their stance. Whilst I’ve not read any reviews yet, I have seen the odd comment on social media that suggests there’s a grudging acceptance from some quarters that this new album cannot be ignored. And they would be right. But why? Allow me to explain.
I’ll freely admit that perhaps I was a little generous with my scores for the last two records. They are both undoubtedly very good, but they have not visited my playlists as frequently as maybe I thought at the time when I was reviewing them. As such, I have given ‘Existence Is Futile’ more time to marinate, so that I don’t make the same mistake again with a band that remains very important to me, if nothing else for reasons of teenage nostalgia. But, having given this record that extra time, I do not think any less of it, and I’m still spinning it regularly, enjoying the majority of what it has to deliver. It isn’t perfect and it doesn’t quite dethrone ‘Dusk…’ or ‘Cruelty…’, but by heavens is it a great album.
After the utterly ubiquitous dark, orchestral and cinematic instrumental, we’re hit with ‘Existential Terror’. But there’s no terror to this experience, existential or otherwise; it’s an early gauntlet that’s thrown down with style and a well-placed arrogance, that has never been far away from Cradle’s armoury. It thunders out of the speakers in a flurry of double-pedal drumming from Martin ‘Marthus’ Skaroupka, muscular riffing from the six-string duo of Ashok and Richard Shaw, and laced with bold keys courtesy of newcomer Annabelle, and orchestration where choral vocals dominate. From there, Dani spits his diatribes to an electric soundtrack behind him, full of energy, dripping with Gothic malevolence, and inspired performances all around, including the pulsing bass of Daniel Firth when the song slows occasionally. To my mind, the dual guitar harmonies, the riffing, and the intense rhythms means that this is as addictive and as close as they’ve come to the magic of ‘Cruelty…’ for many a year.
‘Necromantic Fantasies’ is classic Cradle, featuring angelic female vocals, irresistible dual guitar melodies, and a more pronounced Gothic tinge. Again, the performances of the musicians are all outstanding; listening to this track, which has significantly grown on me from humble beginnings, you get the feeling that finally, this is a unit that is fully in sync and in top form. I love the flamboyant guitar work, including a killer solo or two, both melodic and vaguely discordant, but perfectly executed. It’s all enhanced by a brilliant production, that allows clarity and punch, allowing the music to fully shine.
If you’re looking for something a little more extreme, then tracks like ‘Crawling King Chaos’ should quench your thirst. There’s a greater emphasis on more ‘traditional’ black metal ingredients here, with warp speed blastbeats, fast-picked riffing, and a generally more frantic pace. And yet it remains memorable and catchy thanks to some well-placed subtle melody.
Another favourite cut on ‘Existence Is Futile’ include ‘Black Smoke Curling From The Lips Of War’ which makes great use of more angelic female vocals and opulent Gothic overtones within a song that, on one hand feels more akin to the ‘Dusk…’ era, whilst in the next breath feels fresh and interesting thanks to an occasional veering towards death metal, not to mention a touch of thrash and trad metal too.
Cradle Of Filth have always been very adept at penning some glorious slower, more melodic pieces over their lengthening career, and this record is no different. The superbly-titled ‘Discourse Between A Man And His Soul’ is both elegant and catchy as hell, blessed with beautiful twin guitar work and rich synths, as well as maudlin tinkling piano notes. Then there’s the equally marvellous ‘How Many Tears To Nurture A Rose’, a relatively short song that rips out of the speakers at a ferocious pace, but which then introduces a stunning chorus, an irresistible blend of catchy lead guitar melodies and a galloping tempo that would have Iron Maiden purring.
It isn’t all perfect, however. The intro to ‘The Dying Of The Embers’ reintroduces a toe-curling female spoken-word segment. It’s nothing new to the Cradle palette, and it might have worked better if it wasn’t for the fact that every word is dramatically over-pronounced, as if to beat us over the head with the fact that this is an English band. The entire song is a little underwhelming too; not bad, it just gets a little lost amongst better songs.
I’m also not 100% sold on ‘Suffer Our Dominion’. Hearing Cradle Of Filth abandon their sinister but romantic Gothic lyrics in favour of a song about climate change is strange. I’m not for one minute suggesting that they shouldn’t have done it, because it’s clearly a vitally important subject. It just feels a little out of place, even if the song itself is a good one.
The final minutes of the closing song, ‘Us, Dark, Invincible’ are a fitting end to a very strong album. The main body of the track is strong enough, with some frenetic riffing and a catchy chorus of sorts. But the final act eclipses it; slow, malevolent, and incredibly beautiful, it is a dramatic, melodic crescendo that underlines the song writing prowess of the band when they get it spot on.
And, for the vast majority of ‘Existence Is Futile’, Cradle Of Filth do get things spot on. For much of 2021, I have shared the sentiment of the album’s title, feeling that life indeed can be extremely futile. Thankfully, I have worked hard to change my mindset, and my efforts have been assisted by the music that I love and cherish. As it turns out, Cradle Of Filth are one of those bands that I still cherish, especially when they are in such glorious form. No longer do I think that my existence is futile – how could I with music like this to listen to? The band may proclaim that ‘Existence Is Futile’ but somewhat ironically, this album has helped prove to many of us that this is very much not the case at all.
The Score of Much Metal: 94%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: