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Cradle unleash new horrors
on 16 December 2012
You could be forgiven for thinking that after 20 years in the business, Cradle might have seen better days. I certainly thought so. After a decade of spreading infectious darkness, accompanied by lashings of OTT gothic, they had set off down a harder, more simplistic and ultimately rather more pedestrian road. Nymphetamine was bad, Thornography was worse... Yes, they pulled their socks up a little with some decent pieces on Godspeed, and even more so with the darkly erotic Venus Aversa, but in many ways they had abandoned the principles of evil that once made them so fantastic.
So, another decade after the band had reached their zenith and had a good many years to wane, they've gone and produced something which stakes a real claim for a place amongst some of the rather more cutting edge contemporary metal bands.
For a start, Manticore is actually quite heavy. Although COF originally started out with the extreme metal tag, they soon outgrew that and found themselves their own Byronic niche - occupying a space somewhere between poetry, gothica and tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness. They've always been a metal band, but they've rarely strayed into territory this close to death metal. Yes, I did actually just use the word death metal. Although Manticore retains many of the Cradle hallmarks - the trademark Paul Allender riffs that have loomed large on everything since Damnation and a Day; Dani's shrieking vocals and kinky poetry; the cheesy whispered breakdowns - it is actually a million miles away from both their earlier keyboard-laced graveyard-isms and their later melodic heavy-metal-with-black-metal-screams. The Abhorrent hits damn hard and does not relent for so much as a second. The tinkly, melodic, Her Ghost in the Fog keyboards have been shoved aside by sharper, slicker and sicker synth-backed heavy riffing. The Abhorrent is a genuinely hard and heavy slice of energetic and aggressive thrash-esque blackness. I can listen to it at least 5 times in a row every day, and it still gets its claws into me and does not let go.
Manticore is another beast of a track: eastern rhythms jostle for space amongst utterly black riffing, vicious drumming and some of Dani's most bearable vocals. Practically the only thing holding this album back from really entering heavy, thrashy territory is Dani's not-changed-it-since-1991 screaming vocals. He does mix in some low, deathy growls, which are so good they hurt, but he still clings way too much to the low then hiiiiiigh shrieky style. Manticore itself is one of the few songs that manage to break free from their corny, tongue-in-cheek archetype and really make the leap into 2012. The chorus is pure blackened filth and the verses cast a brilliant contrast between death metal riffage and Iron Maiden melodic soloing.
Pallid Reflection, like much of the album, has Iron Maiden's fingerprints all over it, along with clearly audible references to their original inspirations: Bathory, King Diamond, 80s thrash and classic hard rock. All the gothic romance elements are gone, and replaced by clever, sexy leads and breakneck riffs. Forget the classic Midian-era piano leads, the spooky keyboards, narration, female vocals and choirs - Cradle have stripped things back to basics and produced an album that is simply about crushingly good heavy metal. Practically the only track that has really retained the traditional keyboards is Siding with the Titans, which mingles sticky sweet keys with thunderous drumming and churning distorted guitar.
I hesitate to make any big claims that I will regret later, but this is a new direction for Cradle: one which is truer to their roots and inspirations, and unafraid of abandoning certain trademark sounds and replacing them with pure heavy metal, to rather surprising effect. There's a lot here that we haven't seen them do before, and they seem to have finally broken free from the chains of their past and taken a bold step into contemporary metal scene. I don't think I would be wrong in saying that Manticore has really put COF back on the map, and I shall watch their next moves with interest.