Cradle of Filth - _Damnation and a Day_
(Sony Music, 2003)
by: Adam Lineker (6.5 out of 10)
An essential part of the black metal scene, cross-genre innovators, the world's most unholy boy-band, the worst thing to ever come out of Ipswich -- whatever be your opinion of Cradle of Filth, it is difficult to ignore them. Personally, I have eagerly anticipated this record since 2001's _Bitter Suites to Succubi_ EP (of sorts) began a deluge of stop-gap fan bait. Couple this tedium with their recent major label signing, and the stakes are high over Dani's head.

So, to the good parts of _Damnation and a Day_ first: it sounds awesome. Guilty in the past of swamping their more metal elements in ambience, the band have evidently taken special care to preserve their bite. The guitars sound more powerful and polished on this work than any other previous CoF release, synching those heavy riffs into place beautifully. Yet all this glossy riffola would be nothing without Adrian Erlandsson, whose drumming sounds simply magnificent on _Damnation..._. Not only does he display tight technique and essential rhythmic control, the production on his kit lends him a more powerful attack than ever before, making his fills and blasts a real pleasure. Unfortunately Robin Graves' nocturnal pulse is woefully missing from the rhythm section. With no disrespect to Dave Pybus, who provides some very effective melodic bass lines, the instrument mostly blends into the mix and lacks the presence of past CoF releases. Dani also sounds more subdued on this album; it is a relief to hear his voice a little less intrusive than usual, but after a career peak on 2000's _Midian_ opus, it is a little disappointing to find him below par.

One big question hanging over this album prior to release was the decision to use the Hungarian Film Orchestra and a real choir instead of synthesized instruments. The good news is that these new components sound great, often subtly working in and out of counter melodies and accompaniment. Yet, even though it bewilders me from a musician's point of view, one could argue that the rich analogue sounds of Martin Foul's Kurzweill Keyboard served the music as well as, if not better than the real instruments(!). The inclusion of the orchestra and choir has also lead to two rather unsettling developments. Firstly, dispossessed 'boardsman Martin has had to arrange things other than his traditional surges of ambience to keep him busy, resulting in a mixed bag of effects that dabble in electronica. Occasionally it works, more often than not it provokes a raised eyebrow; the sampled fireworks in "Better to Reign in Hell" are a fine example of this awkward frippery. Secondly, although sounding fine behind the prominent metalwork, someone gave into temptation and decided to compose a multitude of classical instrumentals. Cradle of Filth have been known to undertake such musical excursions in the past, but allowing the orchestra four opportunities to explore dark and epic moods does nothing more than dilute the album. To make matters worse, the resultant music is distractingly cringeworthy; rather than arouse my taste for classical music, they do more to convince me that Cradle of Filth are planning to write a soundtrack for Conan 3.

Musically _Damnation and a Day_ is similar to the work on _Midian_, but with a far greater scope and a wider incorporation of sonic elements. Make no mistake, this record is huge in execution and concept. Yet almost inevitably, one is left feeling that Cradle have over-egged the pudding. The songs are lengthy without exception, exploring multiple motifs, but the quality has been stretched out to breaking point . Whereas _Midian_ offered us glossy slabs of great atmospheric metal, _Damnation..._ serves up overblown constructions that only capture your interest in sporadic bursts. There is very little of Sarah Jezebel Deva on this record, and there is also a pitiful amount of lead guitar melody -- the guitar solos have completely disappeared from Cradle's sonic palette. For all the grand elements brought to this album, so much of it washes over you. There are moments of classic metal brilliance, but these are countered by excessive, meandering dirge. There are some innovative melodic passages, but mostly they sound forced and confused. Dani's lyrical creations on this record are equally convoluted, muddying a familiar concept (Milton's Paradise Lost and then some more) with unnecessarily vague word play.

It is a real shame that Cradle's mainstream label debut should sound this misguided; one can painfully hear the effort that has been put into making _Damnation and a Day_ a reality. What will sadden most CoF devotees is the reality that the insidious atmosphere that suffused _The Principle of Evil Made Flesh_ through to _Dusk... and Her Embrace_ has all but disappeared; this opus doesn't even have the dark metal glory that gave _Midian_ its magic. I can't bring myself to deem this record a totally bad one, but it is far from the crowning musical achievement that the band needed. Cradle of Filth haven't lost an inch of their musicianship, nor do they seem devoid of creative ideas, but with _Damnation and a Day_ they have lost more than they have gained.

(article published 27/6/2003)

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8/12/2001 M Noll 7.5 Cradle of Filth - Bitter Suites to Succubi
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