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A quaint curiosity in the early Cradle Of Filth catalog is what most truthfully describes “V Empire”. Confused and confusing it was a harbinger of things to come. Owning its existence as the result of a courtcase decided in the band’s favor, it was an unplanned release that was disowned by its creators shortly after release. This hastily put together ditty served as an omen for much of the band’s career from this point onward. It’s a jumbled mess assembled from various odds and ends, both old and new. Marred by re-recording of formative works and needless padding – it is indicative of the many faults and errors in judgment that would come to define the band’s prolific but wholly inconsistent and often checkered output.

“V Empire” was a hastily conceived EP in order to fulfill contractual obligations to its former label as the principal members were involved in legal proceedings and litigations behind the scenes. Put together from leftovers and quickly written new songs it is surprising that the EP sounds as coherent as it does, even if slightly so. Spawned by circumstance rather than careful planning it is the architectural template from which all later Cradle Of Filth EPs would draw influence in terms of structure, song format and overall pacing. As a transitional piece between the band’s earlier death/thrash metal oriented direction and the lush romantic symfo/gothic avenue they would explore to a fuller degree on the album to follow “V Empire” is at least mildly successfull in what it sets out to do.

Frontman Dani Davey along with rhythm section Robin Eaglestone (bass guitar) and Nicholas Barker (drums) remain from the previous album line-up. “V Empire” was the recording debut for new guitarist Stuart Anstis who recorded all the rhyhtm – and lead guitar parts for the EP. One of the stipulations in the Cacophonous Records agreement was that the release had to feature two guitarists in order to have some form of continuity with the debut. To maintain said illusion the Jared Demeter character was created until the band could hire a suitable second guitarist. Bryan Hipp (later of Florida death metal band Diabolic) was one of the most well-known musicians to bring the Jared Demeter character to life in the live arena. Newly acquired keyboardist Greg Moffitt (Damien Gregori) and backing singer Sarah Jane Ferridge (Sarah Jezebel Deva) are given their introduction. Previous vocalist Danielle Cneajna Cottington was relegated to additional vocals as Ferridge took centerstage, while the band ended its affiliation with studio singer and Satanic advisor Andrea Meyer for hitherto undisclosed reasons.

‘Ebony Dressed For Sunset’ obviously was meant as an atmospheric intro piece but was reworked, haphazardly at that, into the filmsiest excuse for a song. ‘The Forest Whispers My Name’ retains its basic structure but is reworked in parts, and the embellishments serve to prove how powerful the track was in its original form. Deva’s new vocal parts fail to enhance what Andrea Meyer had arranged previously – in fact they tend to add ballast and pompousness where none was needed, or called for.

‘Queen Of Winter, Throned’, which opens with a variation on the popular Curt Siodmak verse from the 1941 Universal horror classic “The Wolfman”, retakes both the melody and the vocal line from the preceding album’s ‘A Dream Of Wolves in the Snow’. A song that itself was put together from the strongest parts of ‘Spattered In Faeces’ from the earlier prematurely aborted “Goetia” sessions. The track’s conclusion introduces rather hokey sounding organs and plinking hapsicord melodies that are only saved by Jezebel Deva’s lush backing vocals. ‘Nocturnal Supremacy’ is a song dating back to the “The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh” days that gets a much overdue reworking here. The chord progressions and riff schematics have Allender/Ryan characteristics written all over them, while Anstis gets to add his flowing traditional metal melodies over what the earlier guitarists had crafted.

‘She Mourns A Lenghtening Shadow’ effectively foreshadows the heavily orchestrated gothic direction the band would take on the following album. That it stands out (for all the wrong reasons) proves that it was written and intended for the “Dusk… and Her Embrace” sessions instead of arriving prematurely on this slapdash EP, one blighted by lunkheaded conflicting creative decisions. ‘The Rape and Ruin Of Angels (Hossanas In Extremis)’ is a confused cut that starts with a blistering Norsecore section that would make Parland-era Dark Funeral proud only to progress into a “Principle” style bridge, all while having the symfo/gothic overtones that would come to define the following record. In fact after the strong opening the track loses steam the further it progresses as if the band had no idea where they intended to go with it.

The song material present on “V Empire” usually is both admirably strong and inexcuseably amateur often within the same song. Even though all songs flow seamlessly into another there is no stylistic cohesion between any of them. That exactly ‘The Forest Whispers My Name’ was re-recorded speaks volumes of the importance of the Allender-Ryan axis early in the band’s career as it appeared originally on the band’s demos. Given the inconsistent songwriting and incongruent pacing of this EP ‘Queen Of Winter, Throned’ is the sole highlight. As this EP was hastily thrown together it is surprising to even have this strong a track present.

As before the recordings were done at Academy Studios with Robert Magoolagan and Keith Appleton overseeing the production. Once again the album was mastered at The Exchange by Nilesh Patel. The production on “V Empire” is a lot clearer and crunchier on all fronts, but also loses part of the grittiness of the debut. The improved but unbalanced production reflects the haphazard nature of the EP. The cover - and inlay photography by British erotic photographer Nigel Wingrove is nothing short of amazing. The band’s lush erotica is in full bloom as the female form, often in various stages of undress, adorns the booklet. Every part of the record has lush shots from the usual Redemption divas Gabrielle, Luna, Scarlet, Vida, and headmistress Eileen Daly.

Historically the EP is interesting in that two of its most beloved tracks (‘Queen Of Winter, Throned’ and ‘Nocturnal Supremacy’) were initially meant to be part of the band’s second album “Dusk… and Her Embrace”. Likewise does the instrumental ‘She Mourns A Lenghtening Shadow’ feel more at home at that album than any release prior or after. The production notes indicate recordings in 1995 and 1996 giving credence to the idea that both cuts were culled from the original (and subsequently buried) “Dusk… and Her Embrace” recordings, while the remainder of the EP was written to accomodate. “V Empire” was the last Cradle Of Filth effort for Cacophonous Records before they moved on to bigger opportunities.

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Cryptogenic is a term that refers to something of obscure or unknown origin. It also is a band from Charleroi, the Francophone region of Belgium. Cryptogenic, who never formally demoed, was formulated in 2014 and instead opted to release its debut barely a year after forming. “There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is a concept album about a viral disease that turns mankind into ravaging, bloodthirsty mutants. The biggest selling point, for both band and album, is frontwoman Catarina Craveiro Salsinha.

Salsinha’s growl is impressive but the unflattering, overly dry production tends to make her sound unintendedly monotonous. That isn’t to say to say that Cryptogenic wouldn’t benefit from better developed vocal lines. As the Mike van Mastrigt-fronted Sinister and the various Incantation and Monstrosity frontmen have proven in spades it is perfectly possible to implement variation while staying within a certain vocal style. For the most part Catarina’s vocals are similar to those of Edda Tegeder Óskarsdóttir from Icelandic death metal outfit Angist. A number of songs include mood setting atmospheric sections with piano playing, church organs, sound effects and the like. A multitude of emotive, carefully-phrased and beautifully laid out solos stand in stark contrast to the rather matter-of-fact and robust death metal that the band chooses to specialize in.

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‘Deep into Flesh’ aims for that classic morbid, desolate atmosphere of desiccation and decay. It is helped immensely by the sudden piano melody and the eerie opening section. 'The Last Glow Of Humanity' is one of the more traditional cuts of the record. The slow midsection in ‘Unchained Hatred’ borders treacherously close on deathcore - and slam-death territory, neither of which is advisable. Thankfully it is redeemed by a spectacular solo. Why ‘Requiem For Ashes’ is its own song, and not integrated as an intro piece to ‘A Den Of Iniquity’ probably has to do with that it can be used as an interlude or introduction in during live shows. ‘Dismember’ and ‘Obsessed By the Screams’ are the strongest cuts of the record, the former because it is the most straightforward and focused. The latter retains the focus and tight structuring and adds a number of truly exhilarating leads portions.

“There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is plagued by an uneven and somewhat schizophrenic mix of American death metal, melodic Swedish death metal, technical metal, and stomping death-groove. The songwriting, while not lacking in atmosphere, is often confused and directionless with songs either containing too much ideas, or not enough. Often Cryptogenic will start a song with an American sounding section only to move through a brief almost hardcore chord progression only to transition into saccharine Swedish melodic death metal territory. The disconnect between all three parts couldn’t be more glaring and obvious. While the versatility of players is to be commended, it naturally results in a lack of cohesion within the songs individually, and the album as a whole. Cryptogenic wants a bit of everything, and ends up with mostly nothing. What the band overcompensates in percussive vocal delivery and punch, it lacks in character and colour. The album, and the band, lacks the stylistic cohesion that made institutions as Aborted, Ancient Rites and Emeth the household names that they are considered today.

The album was recorded at Rising Recording Studio in Houffalize, Luxembourg. It combines a guitar tone not dissimilar to the early work of Sunlight Studio and Tomas Skogsberg (the formative works of Necrophobic, At the Gates and Unleashed come to mind) with a concrete bass guitar that recalls "The Bleeding" by Cannibal Corpse, and sets that to an organic, warm drum sound. The production is crunchy without being overproduced, nor does the album sound compressed, sterile or brickwalled. It does lack a sense of gloss and polish that is expected of contemporary death metal. The drums are the best produced on all fronts. The digital artwork by Hybrid Graphic suitably fits the album narrative and thankfully avoids both the comical over-the-top gore of this genre’s more underground practitioners and the video game scene recreations of its more market savvy adherents. It, however, is not the second coming of "Fearless Undead Machines" or any of the canvasses Wes Benscoter crafted for infamous New York death metal institution Mortician.

Cryptogenic is a typically Belgian band in the sense that it bathes in a veneer of contemporaneousness and modernity but can’t quite escape the looming shadow of its various influences, both old and new. In that sense Cryptogenic squarely falls into the category of fellow Belgian bands as Insanity Reigns Supreme, Pestifer and Serial Butcher that all have established potential, and reliably release albums – but never quite manage to grow beyond the tenets of the underground. Cryptogenic obviously aims high, but not high enough to truly become an international player. “There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is far from terrible, but some finetuning is needed to properly hone Cryptogenic strengths into something more potent and threatening. The album is limited to 1000 copies worldwide so pick it up while supplies last.