Dani Filth is in a mischievous mood. The arch self-deprecation and decadent, piss-taking merriment that have propelled Cradle Of Filth for 25 years is in full effect as Hammer settles down in a pub garden with the brains behind this unique British institution, who quietly confesses to being a little worse for wear after his 44th birthday weekend bender.
“You’ll have to excuse me, my family flew in from… wherever they live, Singapore or something,” the singer deadpans. “I literally didn’t think I’d be able to get up this morning,” he adds, replicating the anguished sound he made when he opened his eyes on another heavy metal day. But as ever, the show must go on: especially when there’s a brand new Cradle Of Filth album to get our teeth into…
The band’s 12th record, Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay revolves around the Victorian obsession with death. It’s a classic motif, reconnecting the band with the 19th century English gothic aesthetic and rich Hammer Horror milieu that distinguished them from the blasphemous black metal herd circa 1994. But with recent albums focusing on ancient world mythologies and 15th-century witch burnings, the reassertion of this era wasn’t a calculated move, instead springing fully formed out of Dani’s obsessive passions.
“I was just struggling around for another idea, to be honest!” he begins, with relaxed candour. “When I got presented with the music, I thought it dictated a certain vibe – we always have a vibe around our albums. I was reading a lot of Victorian Gothic horror – E.F. Benson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rider Haggard – and thinking, ‘I have no idea what the next Cradle album’s gonna be about’. And then: ‘…Oh, hang about!’”
Dani’s immersion in these sinister adventures led him to contemplate why the Victorians were so obsessed with mortality and, in turn, why he’s so obsessed with that sharply double-edged period of British life, when the aristocratic elite presided over a global Empire while leaving the poor on their doorstep to fester in squalid slums. It was an age of rampant spiritualism, penny dreadfuls, memento mori, post-mortem family photography and vast landscaped public cemeteries; an age titillated by morbid tales of Jack The Ripper, Burke and Hare, Dracula and Sweeney Todd, while the Queen herself remained in mourning for 40 years.
“The whole era seems drenched and entrenched in that gothic atmosphere,” Dani gushes, warming to his theme. “Everybody daubed themselves in funereal garb. I’m a big fan of that whole era, it is pretty much my life. I live in a Victorian house full of weird stuff; I’ve got two mummies! I just had my loft converted, and found a weird Edward Scissorhands turret in the corner that we didn’t know anything about.” Was anything bricked up inside it? “There is now: empty guitar cases.”
Cradle feel right at home let loose in this lurid psychogeography, the pungent atmosphere curling off the grooves in evocative lines from the title track, such as, ‘London run amok is Sodom bathed in an eerie light and a sickening fog’ and ‘The mist carousing off the Thames, its sallow tendrils bend the will of many men to morbid fascination’. Once the penny (dreadful) dropped, you might imagine the lyrics came flooding out in an epic splurge to rival Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Dani shakes his head, staring forlornly into his pint.
“It’s awful every time, literally awful,” he intones. “What I’m planning to do – which I’ve been planning to do for 25 years – is to write a book, and then write lyrics about the book. But I’m shit, I can’t do that. It’s really hard, but I am trying. Very trying.” He smirks. “I have got an idea for it, but every time we end up making an album instead!”
As ever, Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay boasts a well-honed signature style that travels right back to Cradle’s debut. Despite an ever-changing line-up, somehow their music always ends up feeling so intrinsically Filthy, even though Dani, the band’s only constant, has seldom granted himself a musical credit across their discography.
“I play guitar but I’m shit,” he says. “I’m the worst guitarist. Whoever you think is a worse guitarist, I’m shitter than them. So I can’t imagine going, ‘There you are, that’s what I’ve come up with.’ They’d be like, ‘Really? Where’s the second note?’ It’s not just that I tell them what to do – we get an idea and everything’s built around it. It’s quite easy, actually. Recently it’s ended up with everybody bringing in two songs each, and we steer it from there. It’s like building a Lego Death Star.”
It says a great deal that the band’s latest, six- piece line-up has remained stable for two albums in a row, a feat that has never happened before. Cradle’s longest-serving drummer (11 years and counting), Martin ‘Marthus’ Škaroupka, is not just one of metal’s pre-eminent percussionists, he also devises much of the crucial symphonic orchestration. Meanwhile, Cradle’s best- yet twin-axe tag-team – Derbyshire guitar teacher Richard Shaw and Marek ‘Ashok’ Šmerda, formerly in Czech black metal pioneers Root – continue to drop jaws with their flamboyant interplay and incisive chemistry. Such is the musical bond forged by this chance partnership, Dani has witnessed the guitarists in a state of high emotional rapture: “I’ve seen them literally in tears,” he reveals. “It’s the weirdest thing.”
Having set lyrics about historical death customs to this lush extreme score, it’s tempting to wonder whether Dani’s planning an elaborate, Victorian-style funeral to mark his own passing when the time comes. “No, no, it’ll be very futuristic,” the frontman insists. “There’ll be an elite team of Stormtroopers leading my body to a Star Destroyer waiting outside the chapel!”
Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay is out September 22 via Nuclear Blast