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Total Fucking Darkness is about as "necro" as it gets for Cradle of Filth. Since the release of their much lauded Dusk... LP, most of Cradle's releases that aren't total shit suffer from production woes in some way or another--specifically overproduction. Such is not the case with the band's best demo. This recording is seriously low-budget, which adds to the overall atmosphere of the release.
First and foremost, this demo contains by far the best version of "The Black Goddess Rises" Cradle of Filth ever recorded. (The song is totally butchered on their debut LP, as is "The Forest Whispers My Name.") This track best represents the potential Cradle possessed early in their career. "The Black Goddess Rises" epitomizes the atmosphere and style of the band's first viable demo, and marks the first and only Cradle of Filth release that "sounds like this." It's not black metal; it's not really death metal...it's just dark music.
Lyrically, Total Fucking Darkness is less angry, vampiric, romantic poetry, and more, well...just plain evil--which is a good thing! This demo contains the most evil music Cradle have ever recorded; and while their songwriting would evolve for better or worse, Total Fucking Darkness remains the pinnacle of a band that lost its way too early in its fated history.
This is the "proto-Cradle of Filth sound." Before the heady poetry, banshee-wailing, and Maiden-esque guitar harmonies, there was Total Fucking Darkness--a totally fucking dark recording by a band that will never sound like this again.
Having finally deciding the cease and desist with death metal (Thank God…), Suffolk based Cradle of Filth decided to change their sound to black metal that would eventually lead them to the “love it or hate it” sound they play today, and the Total Fucking Darkness demo was the first step in the path they chose.
Production wise, as can be expected from a 90s black metal demo, is awful. I’ve never been one to understand why so many black metal fans like to have their music with terrible production; I’ve always thought sounded like it was recorded by people who didn’t much care for music. But since this is just a demo the poor production can be somewhat overlooked.
The music style is very like that of the band’s first full-length album, with lead vocalist Dani Filth’s vocals baring very little resemblance to what they sound like today. The odd shrill shriek appears every now and then but for the most part he grunts and snarls his way through the music. At various points throughout the whole demo though, he uses a really annoying echoing effect that sounds a bit cheap. The guitars are used effectively, with good hard riffs spread throughout the whole demo, although the bass, for all I can tell, doesn’t seem to have been used at all. The drum work, while not as good as it would be on later releases, is still very solid. We have Darren White on the drums here, and while he is no Nick Barker, he certainly shows that he is a more than capable drummer.
The keyboards though are the shining point of the demo. Benjamin Ryan really knows how to create a dark and chilling atmosphere, with his use of organ and choir sounds he really does help form what would always be a figure point in Cradle of Filth’s sound. Just listen to his work on the song As Deep As Any Burial, and of course on the instrumental outro, Fraternally Yours 666, which for the record is one of the band’s finest instrumentals to date. Sadly, neither of these songs, or any of the other songs apart from The Black Goddess Rises (Which despite being one of their most well known songs often labelled as a classic, I’ve never been a huge fan off) would ever find their way on to a full-length album. Shame really, because they could really benefit from the better production and go down as classics along with such songs as Summer Dying Fast.
In short, the demo is really worth listening to if you’re a fan of the band, and maybe even if your not such a huge fan. It really shows just how much this band has evolved, taking on several different sounds throughout their career rather than sticking with the same sound, and never evolving at all.
For a demo recorded onto a cassette, the inferior quality can be overlooked as a somewhat necro sound to a band waiting to unleash themselves upon the UK as the answer to the Scandinavian black metal movement at the time.
For those of you familiar with Dani's infamous screech, you can forget that here. He growls and snarls his way through the tracks, sounding just like what you would expect a black metal vocallist to sound, punctuating with death metal grunts when required.
Opening with "The Black Goddess Rises", this track is very similar to the Principle... version, including bass solo and subsequent guitar solo. This is an excellent track and will always remain one of Cradle of Filth's masterpieces, with a beautiful slow and melodic part in the middle.
"Unbridled at Dusk" begins with some haunting keyboard effects, setting the atmosphere, whilst the guitars perform a spiralling riff over the top. As the song gets going, the heavy, fast paced rhythm kicks off, before soon slowing down as an eastern sounding keyboard melody gives the song a sinister touch. The song ends with a bizarre effect which sounds like a tape being rewound at high speed.
"The Raping of Faith" is another great track, opening in pure Cradle style with the sounds of women screaming, then some of Dani's most evil sounding vocals on the record. For what is presumably the chorus, there is a Hitchcock's Psycho style synth effect (you know what I mean!) in the background, which adds a nice menacing touch. Roughly halfway through the song, the guitars give way to another classical melody, this time much more familiar to their more modern gothic melodies. As the song winds down, it returns to its original opening riff and verse construction.
The next track, "As Deep as Any Burial" opens with a pipe organ melody, with heavy chugging guitar over the top. A fast, more thrashy song than the others, this song has small solos littered all over the place, accompanied by fast drumrolls and given breathing space by only the occasional organ melody. Again, like many Cradle song endings, this one has its own, a short piano bit, which sounds like something from a dark music box.
The final piece is, in my opinion, one of Cradle's better instrumentals. "Fraternally Yours, 666" is a short pipe organ solo, a jolly rolling bass laced with a sombre treble melody on top, providing an effective contrast. Short and too the point, this makes a nice outro to the demo which doesn't have time to go wrong.
I have given this demo a high rating because I can overlook the quality to see a varied and well-constructed piece of work, which clearly paves the way for Cradle's invasion into the black and gothic metal scene.
This is only a demo, so it isn't some of their best work. The recording quality isn't very good on here, as it was originally recorded on tape. The drumwork on here is quite good, Darren was a really good drummer. The guitars play pretty simple riffs, but sound cool, just listen to "The Black Goddess Rises" about halfway through, they create such an atmosphere. It has church organ style keyboards most of the time. Now, Dani's vocals are what lets this record down. Nowadays, he is a really good vocalist, and uses a harmoniser to make it sound like there are two voices going at the same time. But on this record, he is doing his deep growl most of the time, nothing wrong with that, but on every track, he has this weird echo on his voice the whole time, which makes what he is singing hardly audible. As always, there are his infamous screeches, about 7 of them on "Fraternally Yours 666". In my opinion, this would have been really good if Dani Filth didn't have that echo on his voice as much.