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Ah, CRADLE OF FILTH...those wacky vampiric Brits who, rather unfairly, have become metal's whipping boys and prime examples of what NOT to do in the black metal scene (you know...record competant music, tour, get signed to larger labels...those are SINS within the anti-social black metal scene!), though sometimes I wonder if such hatred and angst directed at the band is either from bands who genuinely hate them for who they are, or are just plainly jealous that their nihilistic music isn't palpable enough to garner a larger audience, like CoF's. If the latter is true, then that speaks volumes for the maturity of many underground BM acts, and maybe they should just call it quits right now.
Poor CoF...no middle ground in their "love/hate" relationship, which is a pity. Me? As a black metal fiend/fan, I enjoy the works of a LOT of different acts, from DARKTHRONE to EMPEROR to VINTERSORG...and yes, one of those bands is CRADLE OF FILTH. Unleash torrents of condemnation if you will, but make sure the argument is valid, lest your delusions expose you for the fraud you truly are. Hate me, but do it honestly.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here..."Cruelty and the Beast" is, possibly, the album that tore CoF's fanbase in two, alienating older fans while embracing newer ones in the process (some band that starts with M did that on an album with a Black cover, with equally destructive results, though I think fans are BIT more jaded with THAT group than CoF). Upon listening to it, I actually loved it...much of the material is CRADLE OF FILTH at their darkest, most atmospheric, and truly vampiric, up there with the previous album, the brilliant "Dusk...and Her Embrace", though a bit more caustic. Doing a concept album about Elizabeth Bathory is quite appropriate for a band of this caliber, and the album as a whole does her justice.
So, let see about the music...tremelo-picked guitars? Blast beats? Raging tempos? Screeching vocals? That sounds like BLACK METAL to me! (Those of the unaware should refer to my review of "The Principle of Evil Made Flesh" for my diatribe about CoF's "black metal status".) However, this time around, the band made the keyboards a bit more of the main instrument, and it helped, a lot. Lector's synth lines add a sense of malevolent darkness that would grandly bequeath a story of the Countess' stature, and play in sync with the guitars almost perfectly. Speaking of the latter, it should be known that Gian Pyres and Stuart Anstis were easily CoF's BEST riff-smiths (refer the the last two albums for prime guitar tastiness), and their additions, along with nocturnal pulsist Robin Graves, are second to none, . Nick Barker, he of gigantic drum skills and gut, does his business with his standard old-school blast-beats, though, intelligently, changes it up when need be...except that he needed to trade in the cardboard boxes for a REAL drum kit (a stab at the weak-sounding skinbeat production). Dani's shrieks are at their most inhuman sounding, shredding out some of the best written/read lyrics he'd penned since "Vempire...", and when combined, the group truly shines, as evidenced on tracks such as "Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids", "The Twisted Nails of Faith", and the monstrously epic "Bathory Aria".
Such a shame that the consistant line-up changes would painfully distort CoF's outgoing product, but as it stands, "Cruelty and the Beast" should serve as a final, immortal testament to not only the Countess, but also the band's vampiric black metal frenzy. Well done, lads...well done!