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For a second, imagine being on the album cover for this album... a pale woman lures you in, while the eerie atmosphere pervading the forest depicted is so tempting to get lost in. There could very well be a God, but the bleak feeling of the illustration could very well prove you otherwise. And yet the depiction is just so... inviting. Such feelings are associated with this very record.
Once upon a time, Cradle of Filth were considered one of the heavyweights of extreme metal, churning out some of the cornerstones of their craft in the 1990’s. While many metal fans will spew out insults against the band today and label them “sellouts” (see: Metal Archives, Metal Storm, etc.), there’s always a loyal gathering of people ready to defend the band, usually using the group’s old records to support their argument; 1996’s Dusk… and Her Embrace is the greatest showing of how true that very argument can be.
Very rarely is a record so darkly beautiful, so compositionally sound while taking risks, so intense and yet so inviting. Cradle of Filth, however, found a way; Dusk… and Her Embrace is a 53-minute-long monolith, a perfect storm of melody, atmosphere, varied vocal delivery, and aggression. The album goes through a wealth of different genres such as symphonic black metal, death metal, Gothic/symphonic classical music, and even hints of progressive metal strewn about, but retains the signature style that only Cradle of Filth can employ. All this is combined with vicious screeches by vocalist Dani Filth and the occasional female spoken word section, and they only enhance the haunting mood of the music.
As for the songs, there are two interludes and every other song runs at over five minutes in length. Remarkably, none of that time feels wasted; even the four songs that manage to reach over seven minutes have enough consistency and variation to justify their running times. For instance, “A Gothic Romance” uses a symphonic intro to give a lush, yet bleak, backdrop for the piece to build upon. Thus, the tempo naturally builds as if climbing to the peak, the climax that occurs about halfway into the song with a gut-wrenching scream and witch-like laughter recorded in with the speed metal riff as a backbone. Moments such as that are really ones to cherish as music-lovers, as the time and effort spent crafting these cathartic moments is quite commendable.
The rest of the album follows suit; each song is memorable in its own way, and if you can get past Dani Filth’s screeching (honestly, it’s an acquired taste), then his lyrics are no joke either. His poetry is heavily influenced by Gothic literature, and it certainly shows here; most of his writing consists of death, lust, Lucifer, temptation, the works. The way he writes them, however, is a different story. These narratives practically take a life of their own, and could probably be used in a Luciferian novel of some sort.
If there are two specific songs to garner more attention than the rest, they’d be “Malice Through the Looking Glass” and the title track. “Malice…”, while beginning in a similar keyboard intro/guitar aggression pattern to other tracks on the album, becomes more of a show of atmosphere than anything; after the initial assault, the song slows down for a doomy clean section a la Agalloch or Wintersun. The vocals are sparse here, which is very rare compared to the rest of the record, and the harmonized guitar work is able to take hold of the musical experience. The spoken word is pretty eerie too, with the female and male vocals alternating like the “Beauty and the Beast” approach that is now common in symphonic metal. The title track, on the other hand, is an absolute masterpiece. What begins with slow, rumbling double bass drumming and an operatic voice hovering above soon turns into a furious slew of tempo-changes and lightning fast guitar riffing. Dani Filth sounds more pissed off than ever, and the musicians do a fantastic job of keeping up with his rapid-fire screaming. The song eventually slows down near the middle for a nice orchestral section and some spoken word, once again utilizing alternating gender roles to speak out the segments. The extremities continue afterwards, and the 6/8 verse makes a reprise to bring the whole thing home. The title track, in essence, is the song I’d judge all other Cradle of Filth songs on, as it represents the peak of their songwriting to this day.
Dusk… and Her Embrace shows how the melding of many musical styles can be done right. It is a masterpiece in the extreme metal genre, and continues to represent the pinnacle of 90’s metal craftsmanship for me. If you see this album, don’t be discouraged by Cradle of Filth’s dip in quality and pick it up; the band may be in an unfortunate situation today, but at least they made a record that truly stands the test of time and gives us something to cherish and remember their “good ol’ days” for.