German gothic metal lords, Crematory, are one of the longest running acts on the European festival circuit, but they remain unknown in the UK and USA. Three of the five founding members from the 1993 debut are still with the band today for album number fifteen. Even more impressive is the backing they received over the years from Nuclear Blast through to Steamhammer/SPV and now Napalm Records. As legends in their native country, could this be the time for the Teutonic veterans to impress a wider audience beyond the frontiers of northern Europe?
The Crematory formula is one they refined over the last two decades and can now produce in their sleep. This means they take mid-career Paradise Lost and early 90s Metallica and give them a boost of Neue Deutsch Härte to spice up the theatrics. It might sound simple, but it works a treat on the opening title track when Felix Stass explores the blood-thirsty side of his voice and revels in a malevolent roar of macabre laughter. You might think you’ve walked into a Yazoo reunion for the intro to ‘Break Down the Walls’. Again, it’s like Paradise Lost circa 2002’s Symbol of Life when it gets into gear but with a more playful sense of melodrama than the Yorkshire miserabilists.
As with most gothic metal albums that flirt with industrial music, the guitarist is often the odd man out. The band wrote few of the songs with the six-string axe as their primary weapon, which means Rolf Munkes must grab as many limited opportunities as possible to insert some steel into the mix. The Sisters of Mercy attempt at industrial pop on ‘Trümmerwelten’ sees him assert a chunky thrash attack into the synth and drum rhythms, but his chance to shine relies on the decision-making of husband-and-wife duo, Markus Jüllich (drums/programming) and Katrin Jüllich (keyboards/samples). They let him lead with a high-octane James Hetfield hook on ‘Rest in Peace’ and make way for a grisly death-doom intro with the fangs of Hooded Menace on standout track, ‘Until We Meet Again’. The latter will make you spill blood with great alacrity in front of the lover that does not recognise your existence. Maybe that’s one of the misguided life lessons gothic metal teaches you – that those you covet will warm to grandiose gestures. They won’t.
Sometimes, the band make it obvious their intention is to star at the next Wacken Festival. Songs written for a festival crowd seldom strengthen the listening experience of an album. And, of course, their German heritage means they cannot avoid spoiling things with an intrusion of trashy europop melodies that belong in the Eurovision song contest rather than on a metal LP. ‘The Sound of My Life’ could take a place of honour next to the worst cuts on the last Turmion Kätilöt record. Formulaic repetition has its place in pop but can annoy you in a heavier setting. The pinch-harmonic tag at the end of the riff to ‘Zur Hölle’ would be much more enjoyable without the predictable key change in the chorus. They rely too much on this trick to extrapolate an anthemic chorus refrain from the upbeat thrash of their music. ‘Forsaken’ confirms what you already knew as early as track two – this is macabre pop music padded out with the might of metallic guitars. In This Moment and New Year’s Day are not a million miles away once you take out the chunky guitars.
Gothic metal was a welcome alternative to nu metal in the early 2000s, and Crematory do much to keep it alive on Inglorious Darkness. But one cannot help wondering why it remains a phenomenon of mainland Europe. Felix Stass and company are unlikely to win new converts outside of their core audience, yet they show no signs of slowing down.
Release Date: 27/05/2022
Record Label: Napalm Records
Standout tracks: Inglorious Darkness, Rest in Peace, Until We Meet Again
Suggested Further Listening: Paradise Lost – Symbol of Life (2002), Moonspell – Hermitage (2021), Rammstein – Reise, Reise (2004)