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Shocking revelation: I’ve had a copy of this album on my hard drive for years, and came pretty close to buying a used copy of it for four bucks once.
Well, I suppose how shocking that particular revelation would hinge on how well you know my tastes and attitudes about music. This is not exactly my usual cup of tea. I like Burzum.
But… I think it’s good to encourage some degree of “guilty pleasure” in music listening, in order to play devil’s advocate and, perhaps more importantly, inoculate oneself against the prejudices of the collective metal hivemind. It’s a little too easy to slam an uncool band/release like this and all of their hopelessly clueless fans while congratulating oneself for being so sophisticated as to appreciate high art like, I don’t know, Iron Maiden or Exodus or something. And it’s tough to stick up for a band that is admittedly less than earth-shattering, even against unfair criticism…
Incidentally, this band’s a lot closer to “true metal” (by which I mean heavy metal) than a lot of listeners would comfortably admit; at any rate it’s far more similar to Iron Maiden than it is to Burzum. The telltale signs are all in the guitar riffs, just underneath the tremolo. Behind the makeup and gothic melodrama, this band has their hearts in the eighties, if not the seventies.
Naturally they’ve updated things a bit – with the aforementioned makeup and gothic melodrama, and their musical equivalents. Mostly they’ve borrowed the most visible elements of black metal and altered them so as to fit better with the band’s goth/vampiric/romantic identity. For instance, you could say Dani Filth has a “black metal” vocal style, though I can’t actually recall any black metal band utilizing a screech anywhere near that ear-splitting. And then there are the synthesizers, which may or may not be a fairly regular feature of black metal, depending on who you ask (Varg used them!), though in black metal they’re never quite this shrill or overbearing.
I’m not exactly a Cradle of Filth scholar, but this album might be their most artistically important – well, take that as you like it. A lot of folks will swear up and down that, yes, sure, of course they’re a bunch of sell-out poseurs now, but back at their height they were a completely legitimate band, and fairly decent. There’s some truth to that. The only remaining original member as of the time of this writing is Dani Filth; nevertheless, the band’s sound hasn’t changed an awful lot over the years. I infer that to mean that at this point they’re basically a group of studio musicians churning out music under the Cradle of Filth brand name to put food on the table. Actually, they seemed to wreck completely right after this album: for their next release, Cruelty and the Beast, they axed most of the theatrics and dynamics that lent their music its character, and thinned out their sound. The resulting music was rather straightforward and bland.
This album, on the other hand, has some parts that work well for me. In its better moments it’s actually fairly catchy, and here and there some nice riffs show up – a very solid thrashy riff shows up at 3:19 in “Heaven Torn Asunder”, and the opening to “Funeral in Carpathia” is actually very good, and about the closest the band gets to being actual black metal.
Of course, to get to the choice moments, you’re going to have to wade through a lot of theatrics, goofy intros and breaks and the like. This is where the less tolerant among us check out, and hell, who can blame them. The aesthetic I can handle – there’s nothing on here half as irritating as Black Tape for a Blue Girl – and I don’t really buy the argument that this sort of thing “doesn’t belong in metal” because I’m suspicious of that argument in general. There are a few moments that are so goofy and awful that they’re totally brilliant by default. The trouble lies more in the execution – or looking beyond all of this band’s hocus pocus, in the songwriting ethic that lies behind it. Behind the histrionics, it’s empty calories, as is par for course with gothic metal. You expected me to say anything different?
Still, even if this is dopey or vapid, it beats a decent part of black metal hands down for entertainment value, so at least it basically accomplishes what it set out to do. If anything, I wish I liked this more – it would be so delightfully subversive. As it stands, I don’t feel particularly moved either to listen to it or delete it from my hard drive…