Dani Filth: "We were never going to be Metallica - we're too extreme for that"

Cradle of Filth
(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

Kvlt purists might argue that Cradle of Filth aren’t really black metal, but Dani Filth doesn’t really care. After all, he’s played – and partied – with just about every major extreme metal band to come out of Europe since the early 90s, and seen his band become a bona fide metal institution. 

Nymphetamine even earned the band a Grammy nomination in 2004 – although they lost. “To a Motörhead cover of a Metallica song, of all things!” he scoffs, referring to Whiplash. “It’s just a bunch of people who know nothing about music saying, ‘I’ve heard of them, so I’ll vote for them.’”

Nonetheless, the record cemented Cradle’s reputation and proved to be the gateway for many teens to get into the hard stuff like an extreme metal Green Day. They’ve continued to expand, crafting ever-grander-sounding records while retaining the abyssal heaviness that spawned them. Now on album #13, Existence Is Futile, they grapple with existentialism with a typically baroque sense of bombast.

Hammer caught up with Dani fresh from the band’s triumphant return to the stage at Bloodstock 2021 to talk 30 years of Cradle, crossing over into pop culture and partying on the beach with Kesha… You couldn’t make it up.

Metal Hammer line break

You were born in 1973 in Hertford and were raised in Suffolk. What was it like growing up there?

“My mum was still in school – she had me when she was 16. My grandpa ran the town hall and was the caretaker, so they had this massive apartment there. But my dad got a job at British Telecom and we moved to various villages around Suffolk – Trimley, Woodbridge, Hadleigh and eventually Ipswich.”

You’ve written about Suffolk’s witch lore. Did that facilitate your interest in the darker sides of life?

“Absolutely! Lavenham is just up the road, the site of the witch burnings that were in the Vincent Price movie Witchfinder General. I used to rent a house that was built in 1685 and [witchfinder general] Matthew Hopkins stayed there. Couple that with getting into monster movies… I got the bug when I saw John Landis being interviewed for a Thriller documentary, which included clips of An American Werewolf In London, which blew me away.”

How did metal factor in?

“I got into 80s heavy metal that was in unison with that [horror] feel. I got into thrash quickly because a friend gave me a mixtape with Plasmatics, W.A.S.P., Piledriver, Razor and Slayer. All that in conjunction with living somewhere with a very dark history, it couldn’t help but rub off. Plus, if you’re into literature like I am, you’re basically fucked!”

"I’ve not had a proper job, it’s always been bands and now I’m 48 – that’s a lengthy spell of unemployment."

Dani Filth

Did your parents influence your taste?

“My mum hated it all! I ordered Reign In Blood and got it for Christmas 1986 on import. I remember sneaking in and listening to the album, then putting it back like it’d never been opened. Sorry, mum! I was listening to it really loud on Christmas Day and she yelled, ‘TURN THAT SHIT OFF!’ My dad was a well- known reggae collector, so we’d have people round the house with funny-smelling cigarettes. I fucking hated reggae but dad got me into music as he got me a record player and a tape deck.”

Your original plan was to go into journalism. What changed?

“I was supposed to go work for East Anglian Daily Times and was very excited but at the last minute they decided they didn’t want to do it. So I went to work for my village paper shop, which I delivered papers for anyway. I just thought, ‘Fuck all this, I hate working shitty jobs.’ I’ve not had a proper job, it’s always been bands and now I’m 48 – that’s a lengthy spell of unemployment.”

Did being a prodigious reader influence Cradle’s verbose lyrical style?

“One of the things my dad got me into when I was young was science fiction novels – I loved The War Of The Worlds. I even auditioned for the part Jason Donovan got in the Jeff Wayne War Of The Worlds musical [Parson Nathaniel]. When I auditioned they had [Thin Lizzy vocalist] Phil Lynott’s tapes and it was like hearing a ghost – he talks between tracks, laughs and you can hear him taking drags from a cigarette." 

What happened with the audition?

"I was close, but wasn’t an opera singer. I even went to Jeff Wayne’s house – which I call Wayne Manor – and spent a whole evening in his office chatting about War Of The Worlds until his wife kicked us out. My dad got me into all of that stuff; H.G. Wells, John Wyndham, Dennis Wheatley. I’ve still got those books in my library – I loved it because it was very Hammer Horror.”

Cradle Of Filth with some video nasties

(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

How did you discover extreme metal, and what spurred the decision to form a band?

“There’s this quite cool bar in Ipswich called St. Jude’s, which does real ale and everybody drinks out of tankards, with Halloween-y stuff everywhere. The guy who runs it actually used to own a studio and that studio is where I’d go sing with a load of hardcore bands like PDA, The Lemon Grove Kids, Blez and eventually a rock band that was a bit like Faith No More, called Carnival Fruitcake. I’d also got Hash Gordon and the Drug Barons From Mars in sixth form. It was all finding your feet – when you’re in a band in school that’s it, you’re now popular. But I eventually formed Cradle of Filth with Paul Ryan, who is now a booking agent for The Agency Group.”

How did your parents react when you said you were doing Cradle full time?

“I don’t think they were best pleased because I was living at home and my future wife moved into my bedroom. I convinced myself I was taking a year off, but normally when you do that you go travelling or something and I hadn’t got money to do that! I could see on my mum and dad’s face they weren’t happy I was on the dole, so I made a pact with myself and [then-guitarist] Paul Ryan, who actually had a job and would drive us, that we’d make a proper go of it.”

How were things in the early days of Cradle?

“I’d draw and design covers for various underground fanzines in exchange for interviews, and every day I’d be down the post office trading tapes. I’d also do interviews from telephone boxes and get people banging on the door because I’d been in there an hour!”

"Villagers came up to us like they were literally there to burn witches."

Dani Filth

When did things properly start coming together for Cradle?

"We got in with the people from Coffin Blood, who were a production agency that put us on with bands like Skyclad, Carcass, Bolt Thrower and Cancer. We got some lucky breaks to get known. It was a burgeoning scene and we were young, so we got the attention of Cacophonous Records. We were going to do a single, then it turned into an EP and then we thought ‘fuck it’ and wrote an album. We met Nick Barker who became our drummer, which made us sound very professional and gave a strong backbone to the band. We ended up in court with Cacophonous which was a horrible time, but we won and gave them the Vempire EP as a way of getting off the label. That and Dusk… And Her Embrace came out within six months and then we’ve been in the stratosphere ever since."

Is it true that the first Cradle record was wiped when the label went out of business? What did it sound like?

“I’m grateful it was deleted. It sounded like early The Gathering or Therion, European death metal with keyboards and choirs. It was pretty good, but had that come out we’d have been tied to this god-awful label. It was a fucker at the time, but it was one of the best things that could’ve happened to us.”

How linked did you feel to the wider black metal and extreme metal scenes?

“We were right in the thick of it. Early on we went to Portugal for our first time abroad and headlined a festival with Hypocrisy and Moonspell; it took off from there. I was already tape trading with Euronymous [co-founder of Mayhem] and guys from Impaled Nazarene, Magus of Necromantia – loads of people, because you had to back then. That’s how we migrated to the black metal side of things.”

What’s your standout memory of touring with Emperor in July 1993?

“It was only four shows, and in Edinburgh we played to three people – it was like Bad News. We played at the Royal Court in Liverpool then had a massive party. [Emperor drummer] Bård Faust came up to me pissed out his head and told me about murdering a gay guy. I dismissed it as a load of crap but when it all came out I felt like an accessory to murder after the fact. Well, if anyone had seen Emperor at that time, they’d never have taken them seriously. There’s, like, Samoth, Lord Of Silence, but he wasn’t Lord Of Silence that night – he was Lord Of Giggles And Laughter. Nick [Barker, Cradle’s then-drummer] was pretending he was Uncle Fester, playing this keyboard, and everybody was either high or taking Es, drinking – all fucked.”

How did you feel when the stories started coming out – Faust’s arrest, Euronymous’s murder and the church burnings etc?

“It was all very sensationalist. At the time, Kerrang! were horrible and obnoxious about Cradle. I went with the label manager of Cacophonous [Neil Harding] to have this meeting with [veteran rock writer] Geoff Barton. I pushed him over his desk and Neil wrote symbols on their door in black lipstick. They called the police.”

"We were never going to be Metallica – we’re too extreme for that."

Dani Filth

What happened next?

“I had to go to the headquarters of the crime division in Regent Street and they pulled out a massive dossier, slammed it on the desk and inside was loads of black metal fanzines. They asked us, ‘Are you a Satanic band? Are you about to start a Satanic war like the bands in Europe?’ They had dossiers of other bands, so we told them it was a stupid act of rebellion and they let us go.”

What was the most kvlt thing Cradle did back then?

“Fortunately we didn’t get sucked in and didn’t do anything stupid. We once went to a very famous church on a hill that had apparently been burned down by Satanists in the 70s. We went up with torches and had a woman naked on the altar with blood everywhere, and the villagers came up to us like they were literally there to burn witches.”

Cradle Of Filth in 1995

(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

In 1996 you signed to Music For Nations. Did you feel like you were getting closer to mainstream success? Is that something you wanted?

“Oh definitely – they’d got nice offices! By that point we’d shed off the skin of doing things in the underground – we’d paid our dues, too many. Cradle became a flagship band – I even started doing a column for Metal Hammer. Things blossomed for us and we embraced it. I don’t believe in this waffle you get from some bands that selling 30,000 albums every five years is fine. Bollocks, that’s all you can do! We were never going to be Metallica – we’re too extreme for that – but we were prepared to take what we could.”

What was the experience of acting in Cradle Of Fear in 2001 like?

“It was all done on the sly, utilising people we knew. We had offices and it was quite a big thing – we even had a guy once give us a big jar of funds he’d collected for us to make Cradle Of Fear 2. It was great, but to revisit it would be a lot of work. Making that movie now would probably cost a million quid – catering companies don’t come cheap!”

"I punched Mark Lamarr's assistant in the Never Mind The Buzzcocks green room."

Dani Filth

You were on the UK quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks in 2001. How did the other people treat you?

“They were a bit brilliant, a bit cunty. Mark Lamarr had this ferrety little guy who was so rude to the point where I’d had enough in the end and I punched him in the green room. I enjoyed it as an experience, but it was taxing. My favourite memory is they put all these clowns on and humiliated them, as they do. I was getting on really well with this presenter, Lisa Rogers, who’d smuggled a bottle of drink on and was sharing it. Halfway through the episode I needed the loo, and all the clowns were in there lined up in a row at the urinals! All of them were cursing Mark so I hung out with them in there for a bit.”

You’ve had a lot of line-up changes. Have you ever acted like a dictator?

“It’s always been a band effort, but people sometimes misconstrue that as I’m the only one that’s survived. I’ve only sacked two people in the history of our 32 members – the rest drift away or go elsewhere. Now we’ve got a great fucking band and I love them to bits.”

How comfortable are you with being a household name and a byword for weirdness in the UK?

“I guess we’ll play Nymphetamine until we die! I once did a press trip with Joey Tempest of Europe and everyone would ask him, ‘How does it feel to only be remembered for The Final Countdown?’ He just went, ‘Brilliant, we got good money from it and it’s better than not writing The Final Countdown!’ I wish I’d fucking written The Final Countdown!”

Did you ever feel like the butt of the joke for the extreme metal scene?

“In Britain, not really anywhere else. That’s always been the way though, especially in British journalism – they build a band up and go ‘look what we found!’ but then also want to be the people that will shoot you down. They do it to everyone – A, The Darkness… It’s a safety standard. You do feel a complete sense of betrayal about it, especially when you do nothing for it.”

What was it like doing the video for Wonderful Life with Bring Me The Horizon in 2019?

“My daughter loves Bring Me The Horizon so she’s in the video as well, in the background. They didn’t close that supermarket – it looks empty, but it was packed and we just took the opportunity whenever an aisle was empty. I’ll always be a fan of crossovers, though; one of the best festivals we ever did had us and the Sisters Of Mercy headline on different days. It’s just on a beach; a fucking amazing festival full of pop bands and us as a token metal band – we hung out with Kesha all night. I did a rap thing with this band Twiztid recently as well [the song Neon Vamp], that was great.”

Ed Sheeran recently said he used to be into Cradle Of Filth. What was it like to hear that?

“He’s from Suffolk, so I imagine he appreciates anyone that comes from the vicinity; he recently had The Darkness support him too. We’ve exchanged emails a few times and he seems very down-to-earth even though he’s worth, like, £5 million when we’re worth like £250!”

Doug Bradley has appeared on four of your albums, and is on the new one. Why is there such an affinity between you two?

“Tony Todd [of Candyman fame] was originally supposed to be on [2008’s] Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder. I’ve got a recording of it, but his management never broached the concept, so when he was reading out all these quotes – and there were more than appeared on the record, all taken from trial transcripts when [15th century serial killer of children] Gilles de Rais was arrested – he just goes, ‘I can’t do this’ and leaves. You can literally hear the door slamming! So it was a quick call… ‘Dooooug!’ and he had no problem.”

The new album is called Existence Is Futile. How do you cope with existential dread?

“In the credits, the original title was Existence is Futile… Worship Everything but that was a bit too long. That’s the band’s maxim. If there are no gods we are not bound by cosmic rules beyond what you can and can’t do. We’re not governed by some absentee landlord, so we’re masters of our destiny.”

Existence Is Futile is out now via Nuclear Blast

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.