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So...Cradle of Filth presented us with an orchestral album. I guess I could’ve seen this one coming. Even as far back as their fiery, pentagram-laden days, Cradle’s music channeled enough symphonic moxie to bring the overall musical output to life, and truly, were it not for those interludes, chances are the end result would have been just your standard early/mid-90s extreme metal with little to show for itself. Yes, the keyboards were that important to CoF back in the day, and still are. So the decision to take a handful of older tracks and give them a pure strings and brass treatment made for enough tickling on my interest nerve to procure said treatment to hear for myself how this experiment faired...
Though certain future albums tended to opt for a truly more orchestral feel, the decision to only include tracks from the first four albums (“The Principle of Evil made Flesh”, “V Empire”, “Dusk…and Her Embrace” and “Cruelty and the Beast”) was easily the best way to go because, well, those were their best albums. In terms of musicality and overall feel, they have/had the most to offer the listener. And in terms of turning them into symphonic interludes, well, it’s a bit strange to get into at first glance. If you’ve been a fan of the group for as long as necessary, you’ll know how the arrangements go and can follow the new versions pretty easily and, hopefully, appreciate the difference of it all. I guess the main difference is the slight lack of bottom-end substance that the guitars, bass, and drums would have added (as they did, before) and, as a result of taking on the actual songs’ arrangements, the actual orchestral arrangements sound somewhat spotty and stitched-together rather than flowing from one real idea to another. Then again, the actual compositions aren’t true-to-form symphonic songs anyway, so the argument could be seen as moot for some listeners out there.
The lushness of the strings and thickness of the full orchestra’s and choir’s performances shines with energy and professional gloss, which leads to some of the better, darker, and more melodic and truly-string-oriented tracks (“A Gothic Romance”, “The Rape and Ruin of Angels”, “Funeral in Carpathia”) sounding very sinister and majestic, but leaving a couple of the more riff-based songs (“The Forest Whispers My Name”, “Thirteen Autumns and a Widow”) a bit cold and thin in the winds. I suppose it actually makes sense; around the days of Principle…, the Filthy boys weren’t really letting the keyboard section speak major, overdrawn curse and verse, so taking those older tracks and giving them such a treatment would bear more bitter fruit than sweet. The mixing of it all is very deep and all-encompassing, as well as a recorded CD of an orchestra can be (actually being there would no doubt make all the difference and sound more full in scope), and the inclusion of spoken-word parts (certain parts of the songs’ lyrics) and sound effects makes it effective as a spooky, gothic-themed record that can lay a chill or two on pretty well (the closer, “Goetia (Invoking the Unclean)” has that down in spades, as well as two pretty old-school title name drops…). So what do we have in the end? Instead of a complete and solid product, I’d put this in on the pile of those strange-yet-listenable oddities certain bands put out that are against their stylistic norm but are still worthy of a purchase and a peek or two, but may not see the inside of the stereo or CD player as often as others out there.
So all in all, “Midnight in the Labyrinth” is ripe with atmosphere and can make a few of the older songs really sound great, but know how to pick your battles. Far better than any regular-ass “Best Of…” collection, this can be a recorded work to tickle the fancies of both the corpse-painted fans of old and the Hot Topic-dwelling kids of today. Just take it as it is…
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.