Review | CRADLE OF FILTH Orchestrates Epic Dread on Existence is Futile

            For the past year or so, the product of ominous intuitions stemming from overpopulation has been confined to the shadows, but now it finally comes to light as the UK legends unveil their newest opus titled Existence is Futile. Its design shows CRADLE OF FILTH taking a nihilistic approach to grandeur in a conspiring mass of symphonies with detailed melodic riffs, and illustrious guests appear along with other choral features to build a colossal atmosphere. These complex arrangements maintain the classic spirit of works like Dusk…and Her Embrace and Cruelty and the Beast while harnessing modern extremity, and their dynamics invoke variations of tragedy to reflect the factors plaguing our times. This pitiful earthly state is portrayed in a way only CRADLE OF FILTH can achieve, with orchestrations to match an apocalyptic magnitude, and Existence is Futile embodies that ruinous force to create a captivating existential odyssey.

            A foreboding overture is presented symphonically on “The Fate of the World on Our Shoulders,” and it escalates with female voices until crossing over to “Existential Terror,” where a capacity for detailed songwriting is fully demonstrated. The symphonic and choral presence continues alongside doom from double bass during its opening melody, and a grooving conversion occurs before riffs advance rhythmically. They swing through rapid drumming shifts on a chorus passage, and its intermittent blasting frenzy is echoed by tremolo speed. Dani also sounds refreshed in exercising his entire vocal range, and the whole of this composed intensity relents for an atmospheric interlude. Numerous melodic intricacies are weaved throughout, with the essence of those glorious works above recaptured in some moments, and these classic undertones are further pronounced on “Necromantic Fantasies.” A dark melodic flow revives the blackened gothic aura, along with sections employing funereal organ keys, and melodies with pinch harmonics lead to elevated soloing. This elegance drifts toward a comparatively direct attack on “Crawling King Chaos,” and its accented heaviness strikes within a storm of blast beats. Thrashing riffs ensue when a transition conjures godlike forces, and the orchestrated madness persists after a frantic synchronized progression of keyed and fretted notes. Pianos expand into a dark fairytale soundscape on “Here Comes A Candle… (Infernal Lullaby),” which precedes the tapped formations on “Black Smoke Curling From the Lips of War,” and dissonant tones lurk in the evolving complexities of a course enhanced by Anabelle’s vocal melodies.

       The pace slows for contemplation on “Discourse Between a Man and His Soul,” and the relative calm of its melodies is reflected in Dani’s vocal depths. Other somber tones are also projected as acoustic strings emerge within the rising symphonic features, and soloing drives their evocative quality toward a Sabbath-infused riff on “The Dying of the Embers.” Strange synth effects are noted in the midst of eerie arpeggiated notes, and elements of punk and classic rock appear in developments that reach a heavy menacing rush. The vocals mirror this vicious output, and it finds completion in a solo before venturing into the last instrumental haunt on “Ashen Mortality.” Its symphonies depict imminent demise, which “How Many Tears to Nurture a Rose?” answers through opening leadwork, and melodic details endure with picked precision across the galloping and thrashy riffage. Ghostly choirs infiltrate these passages, along with a sinister orchestral majesty carrying over to “Suffer Our Dominion,” where grim portents are spoken by none other than Doug Bradley in a growing symphony of annihilation. Doom resounds with notes that cling in chugging riffs, and further potency is realized by the multiple fretted patterns that follow. These culminate in soloing for an epic mark, and it heralds the defiant resolve on “Us, Dark, Invincible,” with a rhythm that accommodates crushing emphasis and fury while integrating slower grooves. A steady flow becomes during a final transition, and it guides the lingering atmosphere to its inevitable close.

            I tend to have mixed feelings about bonus tracks, but the two included on a special edition of this release are absolutely worth having. Doug Bradley returns to quote some of Pinhead’s infamous lines as “Sisters of the Mist” traverses labyrinthian structures of groove and blast-beaten speed. Looming organ keys are especially pronounced during an interlude, and the grandeur peaks with soloing before a last diabolical act takes flight on “Unleash the Hellion.“ Similar features are embodied here with unrelenting force, and a striking chorus section is formed when the pulse from double bass coincides with a sinister heavy descent. Unlike some instances, these tracks manage to enrich the main work without seeming tacked on. Also, since it’s unlikely we’ll ever see Doug Bradley in another Hellraiser film, it’s exciting to see him reclaim his role as Lead Cenobite on a new CRADLE OF FILTH record.

            The band has recently described the subject matter here as “reveling in existential dread, the fear of the unknown, the uncertainty of fate in a yawning cosmos and the meaninglessness of life also being the search for life’s meaning.” These ideas are given poetic life starting when “A flicker of life in a black forever” introduces a grim outlook on “Existential Terror,” and apocalyptic scenes thrive alongside “A gnawing fear of Death, of the great beyond.” This unavoidable end is expressed romantically on “Necromantic Fantasies,” where “Hurdles bless our destiny” amid miserable worldly conditions, and Mankind is observed “Licking the planet dry” before the subjects choose to “Revel in our own salvation” by jointly embarking on the “Final voyage.” Death proves the ultimate cure for humanity on “Crawling King Chaos,” with the Egyptian pandemonic embodiment directing a “Returning to the churning of primordial seas,” and other revelations follow on “Black Smoke Curling From the Lips of War.” Many connections are drawn “As bureaucracy moulders” within the depicted collapse of “The Great Harlot Babylon,” and similarly questionable acts haunt a libertine on “Discourse Between a Man and His Soul,” who reflects on being led to “Where emptiness swallowed me” while death approaches.

            Environmental pollution is addressed on “The Dying of the Embers” before an apocalyptic cleansing seeks to make the world “Like Man has never been here.” Life is regarded as “A dream in an endless charade,” and neglect is realized when stating “History warned us but we chose to pray.” Faith is deserted once more on “How Many Tears to Nurture a Rose?” since “Religious fervour got us no further,” and a lifted veil is perceived when “The taste of bliss turned to venomous piss.” Regret is expressed over what could have been “If you’d only stepped from your pedestal,” and eerily accurate portents follow, which reveal humans as the true plague responsible for “Exhausting resources” and “Breeding disaster,” with “Everywhere we touch polluted.” While we may occupy the chain’s top tier, it’s made painfully clear that all other creatures inhabiting Earth are the ones who “Suffer our Dominion.”

            An anthem for those devoted to the shadows accompanies the end on “Us, Dark, Invincible,” and affirmations of “Our balustrades standing tall” radiate with pride and perseverance. References to older song titles are found on some tracks, and the tendency to prevail continues with endless possibilities and a nod to The Principle of Evil Made Flesh when imagining “What dreams might fly through the mist and midnight skies when our cold souls fantasize on the warmth of walls now scalable.” Nightside loyalty stands unbroken before a tale involving witches proceeds on “Sisters of the Mist,” where vengeance is pursued over the execution of a love interest, and they reunite in death after the curse takes effect. Madness is released from its tormented dormancy on “Unleash the Hellion,” and its liberation is effectively like “The scent of fresh blood to a ravenous thirst.” This being favors a “seething Chaotopia,” with “I want my wretched scars to breathe” showing intent to leave its mark among the wreaked havoc, and that perspective is embodied further as “I watch the palaces burn along with gods” during the “End of Days.” Much more could be said about these lyrics, and Dani is obviously a titan of the written word, but everyone should explore and uncover the many hidden gems for themselves.

            CRADLE OF FILTH are known for creating dense thematic works, and this trend continues in the compositional mastery displayed on Existence is Futile. Like a pestilence sweeping through to restore a natural balance, these tracks involve many complex interacting facets that require time to fully comprehend. This release was written before the pandemic hit, but its contents are eerily accurate for our current times, and I suspect Dani has psychic sensitivities to match his intellect. The band’s early glory lives on through their present line-up, and Doug Bradley’s inclusion heightens a pleasant nostalgia toward the times when I first discovered those classics. Our plague also had a significant effect on the recording process, with a lack of deadlines leaving extra time for fine-tuning, and it shows in the result as everything sounds fully energized and on point. CRADLE OF FILTH have exhibited once again their penchant for songwriting sophistication, and the long wait for Existence is Futile was ultimately far from vain.

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