CRADLE OF FILTH - EXISTENCE IS FUTILE
ENGLISH BLACK METAL INSTITUTION CONTINUE IN THEIR VULGAR STRIDE
Not many metal acts attract such extremes of derision and approval – and it’s not always in equal measure – as Cradle of Filth. The eccentric English black metal institution always had one cloven hoof in controversy and the other in ridiculousness. It was like a twisted amalgamation of Hammer House of Horror and a soupcon of Carry On. Manifesting rebelliously in the mid-1990s with a cunning eye of attention grabbing merchandise and playfully offensive PR – as well as releasing a slew of unique and utterly over-the-top records – they challenged and reinvigorated (largely Nordic-centric) black metal tropes. By the early 2000s, however, CoF’s subversiveness had lost some bite. The skittish deviancy and shock value had become tired and predictable, perhaps in part owing to over-exposure but also weaker releases and a dizzying number of line-up changes. Worse still, a serious credibility issue developed and it became cool to hate CoF and, in particular, their brainchild and sarcastic mouthpiece, Dani Filth. Thus, the vampire had significant cavity problems.
It was not until the re-energized Hammer of the Witches (2015) that a re-animated renaissance was sparked and subsequently cemented with Cryptoriana – the Seductiveness of Decay (2017). Pleasingly, so it continues with Existence is Futile. Though it might be a tall order to claim this as the band’s creative apogee, the record is, like the two before it, invigorated and convincing. As you would expect, Existence is Futile has all the traditional CoF trappings and then some with frenetic, rapid fire time changes, baroque gothic pomp, opulent layering and that distinctive overstated atmosphere. The axis and compere throughout is, of course, their inimitable Dani Filth who, while not to everyone’s taste, has a vocal delivery that is uniquely demented and varied. He flares out everything from burning witch caterwauling to contorted whispering and from mangled rasps to death metal growls. He has never short of detractors, but nor did he ever lack charisma and presence with colourful, pun-laced lyrics and dark pantomime showmanship.
CoF always had an overt fondness of the Maiden-esque essence of NWOBHM and, dressed elaborately in gothic synths and opulent drama, it is baked into the core of much of Existence is Futile. Existential Terror is, for example, a set of arresting old school hyperactive riffs while the cheesy tragi-drama of Necromantic Fantasy has no shortage of twin leads and houses a winding vintage power metal solo. That is, however, only one character in the carnival and CoF’s furious black metal theatre is predominant. The standout Crawling King Chaos has a super-charged, nefarious whirlwind of blast beats backed by melodramatic synths and strings. It makes Nightwish sound like The Corrs.
CoF hit some real classic form with the likes of Black Smoke Curling from the Lips of War which charges like a maddened carriage ride through a storm or the tragi-romance of Discourse Between a Man and his Soul. Thematically, this record is – weirdly for Cradle of Filth – based around ecological disaster and it is a wee bit bamboozling to hear them belt out thrashers warning of climate change but with a ripper like Unleash the Hellion who cares.
Flamboyant, vicious, hammy, wantonly over-cooked, and downright characterful, Existence is Futile is jam-packed with killer riffs, vulgarity, well-written leads, good production and modern some CoF classics. The haters could do well by pondering what the scene would have been like without the band.