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The most contentious statement I could probably make about this album is that it's at least fifty percent black metal. The metal scene has really done its best to collectively retcon even the earliest works of Cradle Of Filth under the 'extreme gothic metal' banner, and it's only recently that some concessions are being made to some of the first LPs in stating that there were at least black metal influences. But in the face of this album, I'm not entirely sure how someone CAN'T hear all the black metal on this, and I'd even go as far as to say that calling this a black metal album wouldn't be that much of a stretch. Really, if you remove the most obvious of gothic elements; the most overbearing keyboards, the low vocals, the slower sections of songs like the title track or 'A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil's Whore)'; you've got what is for all intents and purposes a purely black metal album.
Then again, perhaps an even more contentious statement is that it's an excellent album, regardless of its perceived influences. It's hard to deny, at the very least, the pure depth of most of the songs on here. Each track is replete with massive changes in tempo, mood, structure, and technique, moving seamlessly from traditional black metal to gothic sections with a level of professionalism and skill that most bands could only hope to emulate. Really, early Cradle Of Filth is somehow incredibly underrated; to me at least, the material on this album is probably the best gothic black metal ever made, and yet it's sadly under appreciated merely for the first word in that genre description. But the important thing isn't that it's merely a great album in its genre, it's a great heavy metal album as a whole. Each track is unique and memorable, the playing is excellent, the lyrics are incredibly well written, and the album as a whole is articulate and deeply atmospheric, making it pretty damned illogical to ignore this album, or indeed, this band, for purely aesthetic reasons.
With all political conjecture out of the way, one can examine the music more fully. Cradle Of Filth uses the musical vocabulary of black metal combined with the general aesthetics of gothic music to create romantic yet aggressive heavy metal. A number of the songs on here are undisputed Cradle Of Filth classics: 'Funeral In Carpathia', 'A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil's Whore)', and the title track are all staples of any live concert by the Brits. But there are other, more underrated tracks as well: the slow-burning majesty of 'Heaven Torn Asunder' and 'Malice Through The Looking Glass', and the pure frenzy of 'Haunted Shores', which, minus its middle break, is a completely pure and even fairly raw black metal song. On that front, 'Funeral In Carpathia' is probably one of the other purest black metal songs the band has crafted, with riffing that wouldn't seem out of place on a Satyricon record.
Unlike later albums, 'Dusk And Her Embrace' is essentially devoid of filler. One could single out the two instrumental tracks as being pointless, or 'Beauty Slept In Sodom' for probably being the weak link as far as full-fledged songs go, but would it really be a Cradle Of Filth album without the gothic melodrama of a song like 'The Graveyard By Moonlight'? Of course it wouldn't, because listening to Cradle Of Filth requires at least some suspension of disbelief when it comes to interpreting such diversions as comical. No, this isn't the most overbearingly serious album of all time; the lyrics have a bit of wry humor to them, and the overall delivery is a bit too easy and free-flowing to be interpreted as some deeply felt artistic statement, but it's so beautifully executed that the relative 'significance' of this album doesn't really matter. Some people have said that, when you get down to it, Cradle Of Filth has a lot more to do with Iron Maiden than Mayhem, and it's probably true: Cradle Of Filth plays unapologetic pop music, but it's genuinely GOOD pop music that metalheads can identify with.
Each song is extremely unique and just as memorable, despite the relative sameness of the elements involved. 'Heaven Torn Asunder' is a rather more subtle way to begin the album post-intro than, say, 'Cthulhu Dawn' or 'Gilded Cunt' on later releases, with a small, seemingly thrashy opening riff that subsumes into a very slow, bass-driven passage before moving the pace back up later. It's all so very gothic and self-amused in its delivery, you can't help but enjoy it: it's unbearably pretentious and it's ardently aware of its pretense! Really, whenever I hear those long, languishing bass notes in the beginning of 'Heaven Torn Asunder', I can't help but smile at how very eruditely they're played, layed out in a stately procession with a sort of craftsmanship rarely heard in other bands. The rest of the song follows that precise brand of professionalism, with riffs being sequentially introduced with rhythmic accompaniment, and slow sections snapping into high gear with a snare roll and a shriek. It's wonderful!
All attempts at subtlety are disintegrated by the very next track, Cradle classic 'Funeral In Carpathia', opening with a cascade of toms and then a flurry of tremolo riffing and blasting. The riffs on this song, particularly the main theme, are some of the best in the band's history, and coupled with extremely adept drumming and driving vocal performance, are some of the most emotive and memorable as well. Keyboards are used tastefully as a root note accent, with no silly scale runs present and only heavenly choral sound used instead of some ridiculous gawthic organ. It's not quite neoclassical, but verging on it. Even the low, dramatic vocals that Dani occasionally uses are well employed here, and the contribution of Sara Jezebel Deva is, as always, extremely welcome. 'A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil's Whore)' is essentially a prototype of all the later slow epics such as 'Her Ghost In The Fog', and though its initial novelty does wear off after repeated listens, it still yields an extremely enjoyable and fun listening experience.
Everyone knows the title track (particularly the excruciatingly fast vocals during one of the early pre-blast breaks), and it perfectly encompasses what makes Cradle Of Filth such strong songwriters: if you take a random moment from the beginning, middle, and end of the song, they'll seem like entirely different pieces, yet in the overall context of motion within the composition, they dovetail flawlessly into the perfect entity of gothic black metal we all know and some of us love. And finally, closer 'Haunted Shores' appears to exist purely to remove all doubt as to Cradle Of Filth's black metal status. Obviously, it doesn't sound QUITE like any black metal you've heard before, and yet it is undeniably a part of the genre simply through the vocabulary it uses. And even the least 'black' parts of the song (the middle atmospheric break without guitars), it manages to be incredibly gripping, and not just for the band, but for metal as a whole. It's a masterpiece, completely undeniable at the very least from the point of view of a craftsman, and as well as an artist.
Cradle Of Filth makes (or at least made) great music. Whatever genre they belong to is irrelevant. The music on here is powerfully emotional, atmospheric, and beautifully written. Having heard these songs for years now, they STILL don't lose their beauty and almost incomprehensibly organic form, even though my tastes have changed and developed with time. I still listen to this album on a quite regular basis, and why the hell wouldn't I? With music as enjoyable as that on 'Heaven Torn Asunder', as emotionally gripping as 'Funeral In Carpathia', and as absolutely vicious as on 'Haunted Shores', there's most certainly a reason to listen to this above and beyond the vast, vast majority of other music. 'Dusk... And Her Embrace' is a beautiful work of both craftsmanship and art, and if you ask me twenty years from now, I'll still be able to quote half the lyrics and hum the riffs in a moment. And that, I feel, is the earmark of a truly great and enduring work.