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I started this review almost a year ago today, and it took me a lot of time to actually remember a reason why I wanted to do this. Perhaps its because I feel like this album gets far too much slack for what it actually is, and because of the band that now represents a giant zit on the face of the genre of Metal as a whole. Perhaps it is their own fault and any good they have done in the past is deservedly overlooked for the trash they release every other year.
However, I actually kind of like Cruelty and the Beast. The dark and terrifying tale of Elizabeth Bathory, her bloodlust, her infamous brutalizing of virgins for their blood in an attempt to reach some perverted fountain of youth, and her descent into madness. Now the keyword is clearly "Kind of" this album is not without faults, but it is not beyond recognition. What Cradle of Filth has done here is craft a very interesting and devious concoction of extreme metal coupled with extremely concise, clear, and clever lyricism. Dani Filth is a lot of things, but he is a very good lyricist. Be it detailing a lustfilled encounter between Elizabeth Bathory and a man she meets at a ball, in "Beneath the Howling Stars". The butchering of one of the many young women, and the subsequent bathing, and even getting a sexual thrill from, in the young women's blood, in "Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids." As such it becomes clear that this has always been the mode of operation behind Cradle of Filth. Perverse themes that tie into corruption, rage, royalty, and blood lust (see my pun?)
However, there are lots of problems with this album that prevents it from scoring a high grade, in my book. First, the production is terrible. This is one of the most poorly produced albums I have heard in years. Some people like the really leaky and echo-y production. But it sounds like Nick Barker's drums are too flat, and his bass drums are too triggered. The bass is completely lost in the mix, and the guitars are either simultaneously toned down or have too thin of a noise. Often times the only things that come out, powerfully, are Dani's vocals and the synthesizers.
I am sure I am not in the minority when I say Dani Filth's singing becomes incredibly taxing, and quite frankly, annoying after a few minutes. The majority of his vocals sound like an already high pitched, and yipping, Pomeranian getting kicked over and over. Then when he tries to lower his vocals into a darker growl, it sounds as though someone is pretending to be a pilot on a commercial airline, addressing the passengers,with how much his lyrics end up slurring together and becoming incoherent. Its just terrible and the fact that music around him can be so poorly produced, it makes a majority of the song just him yelping into the microphone while a weak and heavily triggered double bass tries to keep rhythm.
I actually am a fan of the interludes on this album, they set a haunting scene, and do a better job than most songs in general, of describing what is going through the head of Elizabeth Bathory. Some of the more haunting ones, like "Venus in Fear," feature a haunting melody playing to the sound of a woman being butchered to death. Through these interludes you can feel the hatred and blood lust boiling in the eyes of Elizabeth Bathory.
The album comes to a head when "Bathory Aria" picks up. A long song that brings the entire story of Elizabeth Bathory to a head. The better part of this song, is the finale when Sarah Jezebel Deva, the female background singer, narrates Elizabeth's final moments of insanity being forced to live alone and in seclusion in his castle where her beauty slowly rots away. Surprisingly the entirety of the album went along a lot faster than I had originally anticipated. Though, again, it seemed as though I was paying attention to reading the lyrics moreso than being interested in the poorly produced music.
Thats really the summary of the album. Its very well written, and there are occasional gems, such as "Beneath the Howling Stars," and "Thirteen Autums and a Widow," but once again its so poorly produced and the annoyance of Dani Filth's vocals just make the rest of the album a real disappointment, not in that it was awful, but that it could have been so much more. Perhaps if the album was put together with a different band, or recorded even with a different vocalist and better production, on atleast the rhythm section, this would be more than salvageable. As it stands, when the final interlude "Portrait of a Dead Countess" concluded, I felt satisfied as though the album wasn't a complete waste of time. Another example of an artist structuring a theme and creating an interesting concept for an album and keeping a listener interested.