Whether you love or hate them, Cradle of Filth have become one power house of a band within the metal world. Originally formed back in 1991, the act went through a few changes of direction. Originally more of a death metal band, the group quickly shifted to black metal, and over time included more of a gothic atmosphere to their music, a staple that caused them to slowly shift more into an extreme form of the gothic metal style. Since their Invoking the Unclean demo in 1992, and despite a few recording issues that set the band back a bit in their early years, this entity has gone from obscurity to actually finding a home on Roadrunner Records, Peaceville Records, even Sony Music at one point. Now we find Cradle of Filth still signed with Nuclear Blast Records, their home since 2012's The Manticore and Other Horrors, to unleash their twelfth full-length effort, Hammer of the Witches. But is it a step up from the mildly safe outing of their previous offering, or is it even less memorable in comparison?

Sadly, most of Hammer of the Witches just sounds like rehashed mid-career Cradle of Filth, especially much of their material from Roadrunner Records, more specifically Nymphetamine. "Onward Christian Soldiers", a colder, dismal track that has some engaging moments for the listener until the odd space rock keyboard solo approaching three minutes in, not to mention the many recycled riffs torn directly from the song "Nemesis". There's also "Blackest Magick in Practice", which seems to take plenty of liberties with the hooks utilized in both that album's title track, not to mention circa Damnation and a Day. There's very little unique to this song, if at all, and many times you'll be waiting for Liv Kristine's beautiful voice to chime in out of nowhere, though it never happens. Another issue is the odd choice of science fiction elements, such as the sudden cutting out of an old black-and-white television, and additional keyboard effects that sound more like they are from an old sixties serial of that same genre than the gothic world of witchcraft the band is trying to muster. They are very brief, but incredibly distracting to the overall tone of the already incredibly familiar performance that only is memorable for what tugging on the heartstrings it manages to accomplish.

"Yours Immortally" screams classic Cradle of Filth with a mixture of blast beat driven black metal concepts laced with that subtle gothic touch that has adorned many of their classic albums. But then the rougher singer kicks in, and some of the punishment is as lost as the moderately blocky sounding drums, as well as the production that sounds a bit too crisp for its own good, leaving the less intense sections scraping for any sort of bite. Don't get this wrong, the harmonized rougher vocals from Dani work quite well with the accompaniment of Lindsay Schoolcraft's when they do appear, but her keyboards build up some kind of thematic presence that just doesn't sit well, going against the grain of the aforementioned atmosphere for moments of a somewhat glorious heavy metal tone that only grows far more dominant towards the end.

"Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess" immediately screams of Midian-era glory, though not really one song in particular. Again there are some heavy metal tendencies thrown in towards the end, such as the final guitar solo which, truthfully, is quite impressive. And then there's "Right Wing of the Garden Triptych" with its reminder of the techno and industrial side of the group's past with the electronic introduction, not to mention a folk element later through the use of guitar distortions that sound kind of like a violin (unlike the beautiful real one that adorns the mildly enjoyable introductory track "Walpurgis Eve"), but still sounds obviously fake, confirmed as it shifts into a more obvious guitar output. As mentioned with "Yours Immortally", it seems as though the band is going in more of a thematic route, and this track's carnival-esque approach, as well as the evil clown corpse paint Dani happens to be adorning for this endeavour, matches that idea.

The only track that genuinely stands out as something relatively new or unique is "The Vampyre at My Side", possibly the best that the album has to offer. Some standard chugging appears from time to time that doesn't quite having the bulk necessary to work with the drums that wind up paced in more of a robotic manner in those segments, sadly. Everything else, however, just sounds explosive, dynamic, and absolutely infectious. Glorious hooks, emotional overtones executed properly through solid pacing instead of a sudden dose of grandeur for no real reason, even hints of science fiction tendencies in the keyboards that stick to a restrained manner so as not to dilute the overall tone of the album in any way, all make for a truly memorable performance that stands as one of the best Cradle of Filth have unleashed in a long time.

But, much like The Manticore and Other Horrors, Hammer of the Witches isn't exactly a bad album. Unlike it, however, it takes the core principle of Midnight in the Labyrinth and decided to go the way of Hollywood and essentially reboot old material with a dynamically different story line. Other than some progressive elements like the additional science fiction touches, thematic elements, and odd space rock keyboards in the last two songs, this recording is nothing more than Nymphetamine re-imagined, largely saved by the many throwbacks to the group's early material from the likes of Midian and Cruelty and the Beast, something the devoted would much rather have over recycled riffs of "Nymphetamine", "Nemesis", and many others.

There's very little that actually stands as new, unique, or wholly original on this release, but just enough to engage long time fans to ensure they aren't disappointed with the aforementioned recycling. If it weren't for the fact that the songs themselves are still good and remind listener's as to why they fell in love with Cradle of Filth in the first place, Hammer of the Witches would seem like nothing more than a nostalgic cash grab on one of their most successful releases. While a noble attempt to throw back to the glory days of twin guitars and rich hooks, as Dani himself points out during a video on the album's writing process, that line of thinking somehow became skewed, leaving it a mess of early and mid-era Cradle of Filth that simply doesn't has the same impact as those recordings throughout the nineties.

Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.