Review Summary: A welcome return to familiar territory
Cradle of Filth have always been somewhat of an acquired taste. Like a triple espresso, or high-test import beers, most people either love them or hate them. Their breed of extreme (not black, Cradle haven't been anything close to black metal since 'The Principle of Evil Made Flesh') metal mixed with their over-the top (yet admittedly comical) appearance and the unique vocal gymnastics of their frontman Danni Filth, have left more then one listener with a bad taste in their mouth and a furrowed brow. This album won't change any of that.
Back with their eighth studio album, and their first concept album since 2003's Damnation and a Day, Cradle of Filth seem to finally be back on track. Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder is a marked improvement over their last two releases, (The good but not quite 'Cradle' Nyphetamie, and the woefully 'rocky' Thornography) and seems to be the next logical evolutionary step after Damnation and a Day.
When I first heard of the concept of this album, which focuses on 14th century serial killer, sodomite, satanist, and one-time Joan of Arc compatriot Giles de Rais, I was reminded of Cradle of Filth's 1998 release Cruelty and the Beast. Nor was I the only one, being a full-blown concept piece, unlike the partially scripted 'Damnation' and the more atmospherically influenced Midian, the media, fans, and even the band themselves have compared this album with 'Cruelty'.
Well, I've listened to this album several times now, and Cruelty and the Beast - it is not.
While far better put together, and with a more linear flow then 'Damnation', Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder lacks the almost palpable atmosphere that the band was able to capture on Cruelty and the Beast. Perhaps this is partially due to the fact that this story was actually researched by Danni Filth while writing 'Cruelty' and was 'put on the back burner' for ten years due to the obvious similarities between the two tales. Or, perhaps the story of Elizabeth Bathory was simply more appropriate for the band's nuanced, even feminine, style of brutality. Whatever the reason, the result is that when listening to 'Cruelty', you can almost hear the horses galloping through the woods and the blood dripping on to the stone floor. 'Godspeed', while a great album overall, never seems to quite get the listener to that point.
Starting off with the obligatory (In Cradle's case anyway) instrumental opener 'In Grandeur and Frankincense Devilment Stirs', (not one of their best - "At the Gates of Midian" or "A Bruise Upon the Silent Moon" are far better) the album quickly picks up the pace with 'Shat Out Of Hell', a blast-beat, Midian tempoed track that serves as more of a personality overview of the central character then part of the story itself. One thing that is immediately apparent on this track, and proves true for the rest of the recording, is that Cradle of Filth made a wise choice in hiring up until now 'Live show' drummer Martin Skaroupka. He positively blows away anything the band has done drum-wise since Nicolas Barker left the outfit.
'The Death of Love' Is the first track on the album that starts to tell the story of Giles, focusing on the execution of Joan of Arc. While imperative as far as the tale is concerned, the track is drudgy and almost reminiscent of Thornography. Fortunately, it is the only low point on the album.
'The Thirteenth Caesar' Is next, and is an excellent track with a good female/male chorus (Sarah Jezabel Deva returning in her ubiquitous non-member capacity.) and a drive-beat, breakdown formula that is reminiscent of the better songs from 'Damnation'.
A two minute instrumental follows, named 'Tiffauges' (after Giles de Rais castle in France) follows, narrated by Doug Bradly, who in his fourth turn working with the band has taken on the persona of the central character. And if it's not broken, don't fix it, I say.
'Tragic Kingdom' Comes after and the album does not slow or disappoint until the narrative/ instrumental track 'Corpseflower' at the albums end. 'Midnight Shadows Crawl to Darken Counsel with Life', the title track, and 'Honey and Sulphur' (which had me singing along by the second listen) are stand out songs.
A limited edition is available, with two songs originally recorded for the album, but left off due to time constraints on it, along with a few useless demos and remixes, as well as live versions of 'Dirge Inferno' and 'Dusk and her Embrace'.
The album is solid, and a relief to those of us who had almost given up on 'Cradle' after Thornography. If you are a fan, this is a must, if you are not - don't bother. This will just give you something else to bitch about.