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Following the same note as Dusk and Her Embrace, Cruelty and the Beast brings forth even more vampire-themed Symphonic Black Metal, but this time there are some differences from the previous release. First of all, there are even more orchestral strings on this one. Secondly, Dani's vocals have become much better and his screeches aren't annoying this time. And last, but certainly not least, the lyrics revolve around countess Elizabeth Bathory's life, describing it in chronological order, as opposed to the lyrics from Dusk, who just offered us different stories about vampires, without being able to connect them in some way. Now let's get to the actual album.
Once Upon an Atrocity is a calm instrumental which begins with Sarah's low-note chanting, sounding almost like an Orthodox Christian choir. Truly creepy! Makes you feel as if you're trapped in a dark chamber in some medieval castle. The strings soon join, and they add more to the epic atmosphere, which sets the mood perfectly for the next song. Thirteen Autumns and a Widow has one of the best intros I've heard in a long time! It starts with synthesized choirs from the keyboard, to which the drums and guitars play a bit. When Dani comes in with his first screech, the drums play some great headbangable beats! And to make it even more awesome, Sarah Jezebel Deva joins in with her beautiful voice, singing the same song that the keyboard choirs are playing. Then Dani begins his growling and other stuff as the instruments and Sarah repeat the riffs with which the song began. Afterwards, the rest of the song is good ol' tremolo picking and Dani screeching. The ending, however, is a slower version of the intro, having some low-note choirs being played by the keyboard and Dani whispering here and there. But even so, the song manages to keep its slow tempo until it ends. Good opener for an amazing album!
Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids is the title track and one of Cradle's most played songs ever. And on its own right! This song is a masterpiece, and my favorite from the whole album! It starts with Sarah playing Elizabeth Bathory's role and speaking with an imposing voice: Hear me now! All crimes should be treasured if they bring thee pleasure somehow! Then the tremolo picked guitars come in, along with Nicholas' insane drumming. Dani comes in and growls a bit, and then the best part of the song starts. A horror movie like orchestral string riff comes in, and Dani whispers a bit. Then the riff is continued, this time with the rest of the instruments playing along it. Dani keeps narrating Elizabeth's story as well. Then the guitars continue their tremolo picking for some time, but not for long, as the strings make a fast return. That is when Dani practically sums up Elizabeth's story with the following lyrics:
"Raped of faith, She now embraced
The narcissistic unrest frozen on the mirror's face
With this disdain, inside these veins
(Highborn wanton that She was)
She sought to keep what age would claim
Her soul was sold and for this toll
Reeking pyres ever smouldered
On the whims of one so in control
Cruelty brought thee orchids
From the bowels of the abyss"
This moment of pure epicness has no words to be described. After that ends, the guitars play some semi-heavy riffs and Dani screeches. You find some string parts here and there, and then we reach the song's bridge: a piano riff, whose catchiness makes you want to dance. The rest of the instruments, along with Dani's voice, add more epicness to that. Once the bridge is over, the riffs before it are played once again. This time we also have Sarah Jezebel Deva interpreting Elizabeth's role once more, as the countess was raping naked virgins before killing them for their blood. Again more riffs are repeated, and then we reach to the album's climax moment: the drums and guitars are playing, more brutal than ever, and then Dani screeches more than once: Cruelty and the Beast! The haunting string riff from before returns once more, everything creating a perfect atmosphere for the moments when Elizabeth tortured and killed those innocent girls. Then the guitars play more tremolo picked riffs, and afterwards we just have the drums, bass, keyboards and Dani. The keyboards play a different symphonic riff, which helps you imagine Elizabeth bathing in the blood of the girls she just killed. Dani repeats the lyrics which I've copy/pasted above, and then the haunting string riff comes back one last time. Then the keyboards, guitars and drums slow down a bit and Dani screams the word 'abyss', thus ending one of the band's masterpieces. Congratulations, Cradle of Filth, for making such a fantastic song, and one of my top favorites!
Beneath the Howling Stars starts with some strings. The instruments soon join them and play some fast riffs. Dani joins in and screeches here and there. There are also some few instrumental breaks, where you can only hear Sarah's singing and the bass. On those moments, Dani would scream 'Beneath the Howling Stars!', and things would get fast once more. By 2:23 we reach an organ interlude. It's probably the only church organ part in this whole album, and an awesome one indeed! It helps you see better the night ball at which Elizabeth attended which is described in Dani's lyrics. Sarah also joins in with some clean vocals. Once the organ riff is finished, a piano one starts, with Dani and Sarah singing/screeching beautifully. After the interlude finishes, we get some faster strings here and there, and also some beginning riffs repeated until the song ends. Venus in Fear is one of Cradle's creepiest instrumentals, ever! At first it may seem it's just another string instrumental, but soon you will hear the tortured screams of the virgins which Elizabeth killed AND the countess' sighs as she is about to have an orgasm. Truly a sick track!
Desire in Violent Overture returns the usual speed and screeches that we are used to with Cradle. Occasionally we get some keyboard melodies, but that's really all I can say about this song. The Twisted Nails of Faith begins with a creepy horror movie-like string intro, which also features a speech from Ingrid Pitt, Elizabeth Bathory's actress in the movie Countess Dracula. Then everything becomes heavy, and we also get Dani screeching as always. After a few minutes of heavyness, a cool string riff comes and everything is then built up around it, including Dani's vocals. Then the guitars stop and we can hear Dani whispering as the drums and piano accompany him. Afterwards everything gets heavy again and soon ends.
Bathory Aria is the second masterpiece off this album, right after Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids. It has all the great elements to make it a black metal symphony. It begins with Sarah's beautiful choir singing, once again sounding like a Christian choir, and she is soon followed by a mournful piano. Dani whispers a bit and when all the instruments join, the whispers become shrieks. Also, orchestral strings join the piano in playing the same mournful riff, making everything a delight for the ear. Once the strings cease to play, the song gets faster, not without Dani doing his typical vocal work. Then the guitar plays some tremolo picked riffs, and all the instruments join in again, but the speed does not remain for too long. In the following riff, Dani mostly speaks with his deep voice, as the drums play some catchy stuff. These elements are repeated until we reach the middle of the song. At 4:52 all the instruments, except for the keyboard, stop playing. Then you hear one of the most beautiful string piece ever, courtesy of Lecter's genius. It gives a perfect image of countess Bathory being on her way to her judges, which would soon seal her fate. The drums and guitars join, but with a much slower tempo than in the rest of the song. Dani screeches a bit more, and then we're left only with his voice, the drums and lead guitar. But not for long, as for once this riff ends, the orchestral strings join once again with the same beautiful riff. Dani screeches a bit to it, and then the speed returns once again. This is when Dani's vocals change from screeches and shrieks to growls. Afterwards, a piano plays and you can hear Elizabeth's accomplices being burned on the stake. Dani whispers something and then the final riff starts. It's a slow choir riff, with slow drumming and guitars as well. That's when Ingrid Pitt makes another return and delivers Elizabeth Bathory's final speech, making shivers fall down your spine. And thus, the countess has died and her soul had been taken "To peace, or hell for company". The only bad thing about this whole masterpiece is that at the very end, Dani just felt the need to do some useless screeching as all the instruments ceased playing. Portrait of the Dead Countess is the song that helps Bathory Aria to conclude the story. With even more mournful strings, this instrumental helps you imagine the corpse of countess Bathory as it had been discovered by the guard from the castle, as well as imagining her funeral. Truly epic feeling!
With all honesty, I'll tell you that Lustmord and Wargasm was a useless addition! They should've let the album end with Portrait of the Dead Countess, instead of adding this song which just has the rest of the album's elements, without anything catchy to add. All in all, this was an amazing listen, and one of Cradle's best albums! If I were to recommend it to someone, I would recommend it to avid symphonic black metal fans, vampiric metal fans OR fans of conceptual albums. This album is epic win on all these three levels. Sadly, it would be Cradle's final symphonic black metal album, but NOT their last great album.
Favorite tracks: Thirteen Autumns and a Widow, Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids, Beneath the Howling Stars, The Twisted Nails of Faith, Bathory Aria.