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This was it, my first real and legit exposure to the ever-beloved, derided and controversial English vampire metal horde that, try as all sorts might, could not be ignored, and like so many other first album exposures this has stood the test of time. It has stuck with me over the years due to it, as well, being one of the very first extreme-styled albums I checked out when I first stick my toes into far darker waters than what thrash and modern metal provided. Though my getting the album was purely by accident, I later learned that anyone even minutely interested in black metal would find this band’s name plastered all over the place, as around ’98-’99 they still had some amount of clout within the genre, whether its more crypt-dwelling of fans and cohorts liked it or not. But at the time, it didn’t matter…what did was whether it was good or not, and as I soon learned, it was. It was fantastic, an aural beauty to behold, and even now I care not for where it sits style-wise and, blasphemous of me to admit it, I can still come back to this far more willingly than a lot of other extreme metal albums that came out around the same time. It had that much of an impact on me…
What made/makes this album work far better than what one would come to expect is its level of tightness, richly dark atmosphere and higher rate of cohesion than what earlier albums had. The previous work, “Dusk…and Her Embrace” has the vampiric night vibe down cold, but it was bogged down that tiny bit by way of wayward arrangements. Not so here. Everything feels just right, moving in one direction and not dicking about with anything less than full-on menace. Taking that perfect marriage of gothic flair, orchestral dramatics and black metal intensity, Cradle of Filth (copyright 1998) have provided one of the best soundtracks to nyctophiliac wonders off its presentation and aura alone. The group goes about it the right way by making the keyboards the central musical figure, basing almost everything off its candle-lit lines of varying moods and voices, with the guitars, bass and drums doing their own part to play off the foundation provided. They have never done their best work off riffs and leads alone, even in their earliest days, and always seemed more at home creating soundscapes than thrashing your fool head off, and they’d not done it better than here, with this. There’s just so much musical meat on the corpse’s bones that even repeated listens over years upon years still warrant the same amount of entertainment and nightly thrills it did upon first glance.
It feels so timeless, so bursting with wicked creative juices and bestial brutality, every little part working so well with one another (even Dani’s screeching fits the stylistic bill better than any other vocal approach he could have done). Cardboard production issues and the occasional misstep song aside, the band comes at the listener with full force like a tidal wave of depthless shadow, rendering all forms of light (natural, holy, or otherwise), save for moon-borne, gone without a trace. Blinding violence and gentle autumnal winds grace its poor victim in almost equal amounts, sometimes within the same song (its dual features in “Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids”, “The Twisted Nails of Faith” and the monstrous “Bathory Aria”, to name a few), all of which play in perfect concert for the subject’s own decline into relentless insanity; though “Cruelty…” is a concept based off Countess Elizabeth Báthory, it’s not a fact-by-fact textbook lesson so much as a horror film reimagining, complete with basing itself off the main character in name only and throwing in as many sacrilegious and dark terrors within its setting. It becomes a monster all its own, brought to life by way of Poe-etic odes and generous wordplay no other band at the time shot for, black metal-oriented or otherwise (only fellow countrymen Bal-Sagoth were able to beyond simple lyrics and into the realm of thesis papers). It was such an interesting twist on a gimmick and image that, during that time, was starting to become overwrought old hat, and one could find themselves drawn in and able to craft their own mental image of the horrors to come. Thus has always been the best method of storytelling, if I may say so, and Cradle of Filth proved themselves to be as adept as undead traveling bards as they are ghouls haunting ruined churches and graveyards. If anything, going down such a path has always made their outputs far better than regular, lyric-driven albums, with this being the best example of the lot.
All in all I found this an absolute masterpiece, one of the very few times CoF ever took themselves seriously and made sure we did as well. The years have been very kind to this collective of blackened blood-letting anti-hymns, and even though theirs was a path that twisted and turned a few too many ways, I still come back to this if’n the desire to unleash the inner vampire out for a night or two becomes too great.