Buyer's Guide: Cradle Of Filth

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Cradle Of Filth are a British institution. Whether you like it or not, Dani Filth’s vampiric vagabonds have deposited their seed amidst the wasteland of our music industry and beyond; appearances on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Living With The Enemy captured the band at their commercial zenith, proving that their bastardised brand of extreme metal could appeal to a wider audience while still making every mother on the planet shit their knickers.

Pick up the new issue of Metal Hammer for The Gospel According To Dani Filth

Since their grotesque inception back in 1991, the Crewdle have undergone rigorous line-up and stylistic changes; a revolving door throughout their post-millennial period saw the band exude a multitude of musical abortions, spanning from symphonic bedazzlement to dirty, punk-based riffing.

Their fans’ most beloved material is rooted in the mid to late nineties, though. There was a time when Cradle Of Filth were considered pioneers of extreme music, embracing the ethos of black metal’s second wave and injecting it with a healthy dose of twin guitar harmonies, lyrical romanticism and harrowing, imperatively unique high screams courtesy of Dani. Their now-legendary Vestal Masturbation shirt still causes mischief to this day, as its recent inclusion in a New Zealand exhibition led to a lady trying to vandalise it. How thoughtful.

They’ve been name-checked by The IT Crowd and, somewhat less prestigiously, Eastenders. An excerpt from their NSFW video From The Cradle To Enslave was featured in the ill-fated Millennium Dome. They’ve been festering on this Earth for almost a quarter of a century, and Cradle Of Filth are still very much a vulgar crumb betwixt the blanket of British heavy metal.

ESSENTIAL: NEWFANGLED GLORY

Dusk… And Her Embrace (Music For Nations, 1996)

The pinnacle of Cradle’s ‘green period’, – as Dani has called it – Dusk… is a masterclass in extreme metal and, to most, the defining Filth record. Epics such as Heaven Torn Asunder and A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil’s Whore) are inspired by Sisters Of Mercy as much as they are Emperor, taking the ugly face of black metal and spurting a garishly gothic seed all over it.

Creepy keyboards and warbling female vocals are one of the record’s focal points, but the sheer strength of the riffs which encase them is unquestionable. The title track and Funeral In Carpathia both boast melodious leads and harmonies that would make Iron Maiden weep; the latter also packs Sarah Jezebel Deva’s immortal cry of ‘Never leave me!’ and stakes its claim for the best Cradle song ever.

Put simply, Dusk… And Her Embrace is a masterpiece. Everything from Dani’s yearning, Byronic lyrics to the expansive production values; from Nicholas Barker’s infernal drumming to Venom’s Cronos popping up on album closer Haunted Shores just reeks of ambition, and most bands in this situation would crumble like biscuits under the feet of Stormtroopers. Not Cradle Of Filth.

Cruelty And The Beast (Music For Nations, 1998)

Coming up with ideas to follow Dusk… must have been a right old arse-ache, but Cradle delivered with Cruelty And The Beast. A concept album based on Hungarian blood countess Elizabeth Báthory, the Filth’s third LP wrapped Dani’s sadistic storytelling into a fully blown narrative; with the legendary Ingrid Pitt voicing Báthory and the epic scope of Bathory Aria tucked into this hour-long bloodbath, it was never going to be anything less than extraordinary.

As perfect as Cradle’s craft is on Cruelty…, its imperfections are what make it even eerier. The production is all over the shop; Sarah Jezebel Deva’s lusciously libidinous tones are akin to, as she kindly put it herself, singing down a toilet and Barker’s drums are tweaked to sound like a tramp pissing on some cardboard boxes, providing a dirtier canvas to paint over rather than the polished pomp of later releases.

Musically it strips away much of the ethereal ambiance of Dusk… in favour of a more direct approach, with Dani’s Eric Cartman grunt entering the mix for the first time and tunes like Beneath The Howling Stars proving that Cradle could thrash with the nasties.

Midian (Music For Nations, 2000)

The right wing of Cradle’s garden triptych, Midian remains an essential listen due to demonic differences from its predecessors. A glossy, streamlined effort, the Clive Barker-inspired effort reintroduces Paul Allender after a five year absence, trading the band’s signature twin leads for a dirtier, more brutal approach that began to crown during Cruelty… and resulted in the band’s most successful release at the time.

Doug Bradley provides hammy narration, making Midian the closest thing to a high budget horror flick Cradle have ever peddled. Adrian Erlandsson fills the inimitable boots of Nick Barker and adds his own militaristic style to proceedings, making hard-hitters like Cthulhu Dawn just that extra bit beastlier. Her Ghost In The Fog received serious amounts of airplay on MTV and suchlike, which made the prospect of Cradle as a household name a genuine possibility. Spooky.

SUPERIOR: WORK HARD, FLAY HARDER

Hammer Of The Witches (Nuclear Blast, 2015)

Paul Allender’s left again. Dani’s the only original member. The whole thing’s gone to pot. This is going to be rubbish, right?

Wrong. This is the most dynamic, pungently creative piss-stain Cradle have smeared across the stereo since Midian. New guitarists Ashok and Richard Shaw deploy twin lead after twin lead, with the title track in particular resembling a more muscular incarnation of Cruelty… era melodies. There’s more meadows of nostalgia to be trampled upon throughout; Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych possesses a riff reminiscent of Queen Of Winter, Throned and the opening bars of Enshrined In Crematoria are an undead ringer for The Black Goddess Rises.

Self-referential wankery aside, Hammer Of The Witches rocks like a bastard. The guitar solos are tastefully placed and aren’t overdone; Lindsay Schoolcraft steps up to the poo-flecked plate and delivers her debut studio offering on keyboards and female vocals. She leaves a trail completely different to Sarah Jezebel Deva’s but one as equally stunning, also employing some From The Cradle To Enslave-esque keyboards during Blackest Magick In Practice, harking back to an era the band have seldom revisited.

Hammer Of The Witches is brilliant. Cradle Of Filth are nowhere near done and this bloody well proves it.

Damnation And A Day (Sony, 2003)

We’re still not sure why Sony signed Cradle Of Filth and gave them a big pot of money – what did they expect to happen? They probably didn’t envision the band blowing half the budget on the 72-piece Budapest Film Choir & Orchestra, but that’s what happened. Whoops.

Damnation And A Day is Cradle in excess; the production is painfully clear, ensuring that you hear the drums crying every time Erlandsson hits them; the guitars are tuned lower than heard on Midian and Dave Pybus’ bass is audible for possibly the only time in his five-record stint with the band.

Thematically rooted in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, Cradle nigh on match their source material in terms of scope and ambition; Doberman Pharaoh, Hurt And Virtue and the face-fucker of a finale The Smoke Of Her Burning all prove that our pasty flag-bearers can be incredulously heavy, undeniably creative and Britishly stubborn even when enslaved by a major label.

Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder (Roadrunner, 2008)

Not many bands could pen a concept album concerning aristocratic French child killer Gilles de Rais, but Cradle pull it off with tact and class. Lyrically, it’s a haunting masterpiece – although the ‘Demons in his semen’ line in Darkness Incarnate is unintentionally hilarious – and the accompanying music does the story justice.

Comprising basic riffs and introducing the powerhouse Martin Škaroupka on drums, tunes like Shat Out Of Hell and the immense Tragic Kingdom (not a No Doubt cover. Sorry…) benefit from a horrifyingly direct barrage of angular guitar, merciless double-kick drumming and spatters of orchestration. It may not be regarded as a classic, but Godspeed… is Dani’s best stab at A to B storytelling and a fiery comeback following the alleged misfire of Thornography two years prior.

GOOD: BUT NOT QUITE SNARLING

Nymphetamine (Roadrunner, 2004)

Seen by many as Cradle selling their souls to the mainstream – really?! It opens with a track called Gilded Cunt! – Nymphetamine is a stripped back affair following Damnation…, opting for heavy chugging and barked choruses opposed to farting about with orchestras. There’s still glimmers of yore here, with Coffin Fodder belching out the band’s firmest twin lead since Cruelty….

Elsewhere, Doug Bradley reprises his role as cheesy narrator during Swansong For A Raven – a sorrow-soaked sequel to Her Ghost In The Fog – and the immeasurably talented Liv Kristine pops up during the Grammy-nominated title track. Nemesis, Dirty Little Secret and a couple of other numbers fail to meet the stupendously high standards Cradle have set themselves, but Nymphetamine is, on the whole, a bit of a winner.

Thornography (Roadrunner, 2006)

After the moderate mainstream exposure of Nymphetamine, the Filth essentially created an arena rock record with Thornography – in their own terrifically twisted fashion, of course. The choruses to stuff like I Am The Thorn and The Foetus Of A New Day Kicking just beg to be sung along live, and the amped-up amount of guitar solos seems to work in the context of these simpler, more traditionally arranged numbers.

Thornography’s slicked shine irked a fair few fans upon release, especially given the inclusion of HIM’s Ville Valo on The Byronic Man. Although the sound is altogether less gnarled and the thought of actually selling records seems to have been taken into consideration, this is nowhere near the band’s weakest effort, possessing a salvo of songs we wish they’d start airing live again. The cover of Temptation is still wank, though.

The Manticore And Other Horrors (Peaceville, 2012)

Allender’s crusty, raw riffing has been a key ingredient in the Cradle cake mix since his return in 2000, but The Manticore And Other Horrors has him as the sole axeman; tunes like Succumb To This and For Your Vulgar Delectation exhibit a frantic, exuberant style of play. This album is very much Allender’s baby and, as a result, Škaroupka’s campy orchestration is somewhat overpowered.

The Manticore And Other Horrors is a curious chunk of Cradle’s history – Dani ‘sings’ during The Abhorrent, the synth introducing Huge Onyx Wings Behind Despair could have been pulled from an old Tekken game and the album serves as Allender’s final contribution to the band – but one that most fans are keen to glaze over.

AVOID: THE C- ER, RUNTS OF THE LITTER

The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh (Cacophonous, 1994)

Cradle’s debut LP and the album that set them up to be superstars, The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh is a barbaric affair that bears little resemblance to the band we love now. The Forest Whispers My Name, Summer Dying Fast, The Black Godless Rises and the title track have since been re-recorded; save for these, the record is an interesting look into Cradle Of Filth’s skewed view on black metal, but one that hasn’t stood the test of time awfully well.

Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa (Peaceville, 2010)

Compared to Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder, the Cradle-by-numbers attack of Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa is definitely a step down. Sure, it exhibits glimmers of hope – the sung chorus of Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned) is a crepuscular slab of innovation and The Spawn Of Love And War is another highlight – but it’s more or less an unfocused rehash of the last album.

THE BEAST OF THE REST

Is you’re still not satiated by Cradle’s studio albums and are chomping at the bat for more Filth, there’s plenty on offer. In terms of EPs, V Empire Or Dark Faerytales In Phallustein is a hefty harlot, featuring the epic Queen Of Winter, Throned and the dual harmony wankfest of Nocturnal Supremacy; From The Cradle To Enslave bridges between Cruelty And The Beast and Midian, its title track revelling in sci-fi goofiness and a cover of the Misfits’ Death Comes Ripping serves as a reminder that the band are a force to be reckoned with.

Further down the line, Bitter Suites To Succubi offers re-recorded versions of The Black Goddess Rises and The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh. Born In A Burial Gown is a ripper of a track; there’s a few others, but that’s the easiest to get your claws into, with All Hope Lies In Eclipse being a post-Midian stamp of affirmation. Evermore Darkly is mainly remixes and serves up a so-so live recording from 2012, while Midnight In The Labyrinth is an orchestral album best steered clear of unless you actively enjoy hating yourself.

Total Fucking Darkness compiles early tracks that pre-date The Principle… and, as a result, are skeletally primitive, exuding an almost death metal vibe on rippers like Spattered In Faeces. Yes, that’s an actual track name. If you crave something other than studio offal, Live Bait For The Dead is a live offering from the bowels of Nottingham Rock City during the Midian tour cycle. It’s a bit fabulous and they end on Queen Of Winter, Throned. Phwoar.

THE ABYSMAL VISUAL

Finally, if you’ve made it this far: Get yourself on Amazon, order Cradle Of Fear and have a hearty guffaw on us. It’s genuinely the most brilliantly shit horror film we’ve ever laid eyes on; Dani Filth slits a cat arsehole to earlobe and eats its gubbins, there’s some wonderfully wooden performances that could have been done better by an adventurous tree, and a fetish website named ‘Ape Rape’ is alluded to. Stay Filthy, internet.