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Unholy Gothic Mayhem - 100%

Subrick, November 2nd, 2015

You ever heard of the term "desert island album"? Everyone's been asked the question, "If you were stranded on a desert island and could take only one movie/book/album/whatever with you, what would it be?". The problem that arises when that question is asked is if you're a person who has many favorites from one particular type of media, as you're basically being asked on the fly what your favorite of something is. This is especially a problem when you're someone who is incredibly indecisive about your favorite something, such as myself. I'm really, really bad at picking my favorite anything, as I have way too much stuff that I enjoy to that level, as much of a cop out as that sounds. It entirely depends on my mood that particular day as to what my favorite something or other might be. However, as fluid as I tend to be with favorites, one thing has been absolutely certain for years now: Cradle of Filth's second full-length release, 1996's Dusk...and Her Embrace (which I will from this point on refer to without the ellipses), has always been near the top of the list for the greatest anythings to ever be created in my eyes. In every conceivable way, it is a masterful, majestic, magnificent magnum opus that will probably never be topped in the realm of symphonic black metal, try as some might.

The best way to describe this particular sub-era of Cradle of Filth, the one that started with the Vempire EP from 1995 and ended with this album, all while existing within the golden years of 1994's debut The Principle of Evil Made Flesh and 2000's Midian, would be "Gothic Emperor". It is readily apparent from listening to both releases just how much the Norwegians rubbed off on Cradle, no doubt due to both a general enjoyment of their music on the Brits' part and them having undertaken a tour of the UK with the band in 1993, bootlegs of which can readily be found on YouTube. While their debut album was a much rougher, more death metal inspired outing, Dusk and Her Embrace...er, embraces black metal to an even greater extent than Vempire did a year before. Vempire might have come across as a bit more savage and unhinged due to the ultra crisp production standard, but this album is just as violent and manic as that EP was, and it helps that the album is rooted in a murky, extraordinarily atmospheric sound that is still legible enough to make out what each instrument is doing at all times, very much like Emperor's legendary In the Nightside Eclipse. It's really quite hard to describe exactly what this album sounds like. "Muddy" isn't the right term, even if it sounds a lot less clean than Vempire and even The Principle..., although those who were raised on the band's turn of the century outings such as Nymphetamine might call it so. Perhaps "earthy" is a good enough word? Possibly, especially considering the drums and vocals are caked in so much reverberation that you wouldn't be too far off to think they were recorded in a cave somewhere.

The guitars on the album exist both as a showcase piece when the songs call for it and as a natural extension of the album's overwhelmingly chilling, horror film-esq atmosphere. They take center stage with some of the nastiest tremolo riffs you'll ever hear in "Heaven Torn Asunder", "Dusk and Her Embrace", and "Haunted Shores", yet most of the time they sit back and form a wall of sound backing to the keyboards, which aren't extraordinarily active at all times yet are a significant aspect of Dusk and Her Embrace's success. See "A Gothic Romance", "Malice Through the Looking Glass" and "Beauty Slept in Sodom" as examples of such a thing. Sometimes the guitars exist in both realms at once, primarily throughout the entirety of "Funeral in Carpathia" and whenever the band shows its Englishness with some classic heavy metal twin guitar harmonies. The bass is both audible and interesting, often noodling underneath a riff without totally straying from its role as a foundation building device, sometimes taking the forefront in brief solo spots, such as in sizable, separated portions of "Heaven Torn Asunder" and carrying a whole section of "A Gothic Romance", accompanied by rolling double bass drums and Dani Filth's unmistakable shrieks. The version of the album I possess also contains a re-recording of the Vempire track "Nocturnal Supremacy", slightly slower here compared to the EP, but made even more haunting and evil due to the new production sound.

The primary thing about all these elements that separates Dusk and Her Embrace from any other number of symphonic/melodic black metal albums that have been released before or since is that, to be quite frank, it's all just so fucking GOOD. Every single thing about every single song clings to the memory immediately, and strains of the utterly perfect chorus to "Funeral in Carpathia" will still be playing in your head by the time you reach the closer, "Haunted Shores", 40 minutes later. No guitar note is improperly strummed, no bass line picked unjustly, no drum beaten without brevity. Even Dani Filth's much discussed and controversial vocals, screechy as they can be at times, fit the music perfectly. Try imagining any song on this album without his voice at this particular point in time. Just try. The band themselves did with the re-recording of "Funeral in Carpathia" three years later on From the Cradle to Enslave, and it just does not work there like it does here. He is at his most insane, extreme, and violent on Dusk and Her Embrace, and it's a performance that can only be described as jaw-droppingly ridiculous. In a good way, of course. Helping him along is the similarly controversial Sarah Jezebel Deva, years before her vocal chords completely went to the tone deaf dogs. Her soothing, sometimes semi-operatic, at points tearjerkingly beautiful and others fearfully dominating, voice contrasts with Dani's malevolent growls, barks, shrieks, and screams wonderfully. She too is a perfect fit to this puzzle.

In a way, you could say Dusk and Her Embrace represents the absolute pinnacle of what symphonic black metal was capable of producing, and it's certainly the highlight of Cradle of Filth's nearly 25 year career. One might be tempted to say that the aforementioned In the Nightside Eclipse represents the climax of the genre, but I personally view that more as just a straight black metal album with both keyboards and a heightened sense of majesty and grandeur compared to many of its contemporaries. Dusk and Her Embrace takes that majesty, bathes it in a brine comprised of Hammer horror flicks and Sheridan Le Fanu novels, and unleashes onto the world a perfect storm of savage black metal and hauntingly melodic atmosphere the likes of which I've yet to find a rival for in all of extreme metal. Sordid as their history may be, fickle as many of their detractors past and present have been, and lame as a few of their later outings would prove to be, Dusk and Her Embrace is the absolute greatest achievement of the symphonic black metal style. Should I ever find myself with the ever-hypothetical choice of what to bring with me to a remote island located in the middle of an ocean halfway around the world, all I would need is an iPod with this album on perpetual loop. That is plenty good enough for me, now and forever.