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Rumored for years, and only existing as a gleam in Dani Filth's eye for even longer, Midnight in the Labyrinth's release seemed as a probable as the Cradle of Filth Gospel. As it turns out, the band wasn't actually just having a laugh in either case, as I now hold a lavish digibook in my hand containing two discs of symphonic Filth. The artwork is one of Paul Allender's better jobs, a fitting tribute to the works of Simon Marsden (if you aren't familiar with his work outside of the Dusk... and Her Embrace cover, do yourself a favor and check out his archives), whom the album is dedicated to. I was particularly taken with the packaging, as it nearly obscures the shortcomings which plague Midnight in the Labyrinth.
Culled from the band's first three albums and earliest EP, the tracklist is a veritable greatest hits compilation of classic Cradle of Filth. This is what makes the release particularly tragic - hearing a fan favorite such as Dusk and Her Embrace stripped of its dramatic edge during the chorus is disheartening, to say the least. The majority of these songs are played at a moderate pace, giving the album no more intensity than a lukewarm cup of cocoa. Dani and Sarah Jezebel Deva occasionally pipe in a select verse or two, with the former exclusively speak-singing in his low register, and the latter reprising her ooo's, ahh's and narrations with some improvement over the original recordings. A chorus, which is quite expansive according to the liner notes, also accompanies most of the songs, but they essentially deliver the exact same unintelligible "hoo! hah! hee! sol! blah!" nonsense in nearly every appearance. Hey, Therion called: they're being out-blanded.
The arrangements aren't terrible, as they follow the melody of either the guitar or keyboard fairly well. However, this makes for an overall hollow experience. Because Dani and Sarah show up on occasion, it wouldn't make sense to have the string section cover one of their parts (not that Dani is known for singing actual notes), and with only one instrument being represented, there is barely any weight to these compositions. What makes Cradle of Filth work is that they have a tight interlocking structure between keyboard, guitar, drums, and vocals (and bass on rare instances). When even one of these components is removed, the tightly wound rope begins to fray. There are some exceptions which really hit the mark, though these are mostly limited to segments which were already symphonic to begin with. Thirteen Autumns and a Widow has one standout sequence where a piano appears and offers a glimpse of how great Midnight in the Labyrinth could have been, had they added some diversity to the orchestration.
Capping off disc one, titled Seedy I (at least Dani's wit was entirely intact for this release), is the only original piece: Goetia (Invoking the Unclean). The name is a throwback to both the band's fabled original first album and a demo, but has nothing to do with either as it is a lengthy ambient piece. Goetia isn't terrible, just unwelcome; those thirteen minutes could have been used to pump up a more obscure song that would have better benefited from a symphonic treatment, such as To Eve the Art of Witchcraft or As Deep as Any Burial. Continuing in the vein of bad ideas and wasted potential, we have Seedy II. The second disc in the release contains the same content as the first, minus Goetia and the lead vocalists. Given that the vocals were already sparse, the repetitive chorus is still present, and that the instrumental backing wasn't strong enough with accompaniment, it begs the question as to why the hell this disc was necessary. Like the lovely packaging, I surmise the extra content was employed to further dress up this release.
Midnight in the Labyrinth is, more than anything else, an exercise in frustration. Despite how many just love to rip on them, Cradle of Filth is nonetheless an excellent band with an undeniable talent for cobbling together the major metal subgenres into wildly entertaining packages. These arrangements relieve the magic from each song, devolving them into generic pseudo-classical meanderings. As an EP with a couple of the better tracks (or even some medleys) and Goetia, this would have been more palatable. However, there is still a definite novelty factor for the longtime listener in hearing a new take on familiar favorites; for that, this album is an exemplary instance of the descriptor for fans only, and only the fans possessing extensive devotion and patience.