Cradle of Filth
The Principle of Evil Made Flesh(Cacophonous - 1994)
Well, I finally got some CoF and now I can see for myself what all the hullabaloo is about. This first album of theirs is a blend of multiple genres with many roaring death metal riffs and strong vampiric goth and black metal influences. Brutal and majestic sounds fill this album together with creepy melodic lines, organs and female incantations. The vocalist has a wide variety of vocal styles ranging from low clean ones to powerful shrieks that sometimes strike me as too strained to be listenable. His more traditional sounding black shrieks are great however and thankfully, he uses them most of the time on this album. The music is heavily laden with keyboards and very atmospheric at times, and always has a very dark feel to it. The songs vary a lot and boast plenty of dynamics, exploding often from moody atmosphere to vicious energy, and from creepy interludes to shrieking insanity with aplomb. The image they project is nothing short of silly however, with horrible makeup that makes them look like clowns on a bad day. A rawer superb release from Cradle of Filth, full of variety and still roaring with some death metal from their demo days.
Vempire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein(Cacophonous - 1996)
This one fits right in between the first and second full length albums, still containing some death metal elements but now mostly theatrical gothic/black metal. An MCD that's as long as some LP's out there (36 minutes), this album is another blood-ripping vampiric epic. Guitar work is superb and the tons of keyboards are great as usual. The vocals vary a lot from a belching death growl, to droning low clean vocals, to his extreme high-pitched shrieks that we know so well, and many others. The female spoken parts are probably the worst part of this album, with a droning quality to them that is supposed to sound creepy, but which instead ruins the buildup of the song with obvious shamming and an untalented dead voice. And that is also my main gripe with some of the male vocals. They go for cheap theatrics all too often and only succeed in ruining the music with too many inappropriate sudden changes and monotonous voices. Otherwise, the music is quite powerful and enjoyable with plenty of variety and good dynamics, but they better change their sound somewhat in the future as the vocal antics can get pretty annoying.
Dusk and Her Embrace(Music for Nations - 1996)
Marked by a more commercial gothic sound yet also more unrelentingly energetic and wild, this second LP stepped on many people's toes, with many new fans cheering them on. The vocalist uses a new rolling death growl as well as his usual repertoire of voices but much to my dismay, uses the annoying and monotonous banshee shriek as his main vocal. On the other hand, they seemed to have emphasized the music more than the vocals this time, which is very good. The music is powerful and darkly interesting, but has a more smeared sound thanks to the production and fuller sounding keyboards. This together with the relative lack of sharp edges in the arrangements and the constant sonic abuse by the vocals and composition make the songs more forgettable and similar to each other. But in effect, the album is quite enjoyable and the composition does its job, keeping you interested. The booklet has another wonderfully silly picture of the band making a bloody meal out of a shrieking chick, but at least their makeup improved a little. With a little tolerance, this turns out to be a great slab of music, but I often prefer listening to the variety and explosive brutality of the debut.
Cruelty and the Beast(Music for Nations - 1998)
I was hoping they would mature with this release and concentrate on their talent for powerful dark arrangements and the instrumental side of their music, but instead, they drowned their talent in annoying theatrics even more than before. Telling the tale of Countess Elizabeth Bathory who raped and killed virgins, then bathed in their blood, this album comes off more like a sensationalist horror movie than a collection of songs and indeed, that is the way it should be experienced and followed. They haven't lost their penchant for epic, technical and dark arrangements and the album has many of these superb moments as well as further advances into this 19th century dark romanticism artform. A strange and very damaging effect on the album comes from an unexpected corner - the drumming. For some reason, the drum sound is so weak at times, it sounds like someone tapping on pots and pans. The guitar sound has also weakened in general and even goes into heavy metal riffing styles in a couple of strains. This in itself isn't a minus though and is quite interesting, but the overall effect of the album is less powerful when everything is put together. The one instrument that shines is the keyboard and it gets plenty of solos and emphasis to weave its grand and dark effect. Another plus to this album is the greater variety in composition and the individual memorable aspects of each track as opposed to the previous album. But now for the major annoyance as usual with CoF: the vocals. Although Dani doesn't use that abrasive and extreme shriek that much here, the variations, effects and spoken vocals are overused way too much and effectively kill the music. One vocal worth of mention though is the female spoken vocal in 'Bathory Aria' that has a lot more character, depth and expressiveness than that cheap droning female vocal they use all the time. When CoF start taking their music seriously, drop the theatrics and change their whole approach to vocals I shall be the first in line to buy their album, but this release pushed my tolerance over the edge.
From the Cradle to Enslave EP(Music for Nations - 1999)
This is a mixed bag of tracks so lets go through them one by one: First off is the new 'hit' track for which they also made a video. I was very impressed this time and was surprised to find that they finally got the vocals under control. Dani doesn't strain your eardrums and patience anymore with unlistenable shrieks or silly monotones and inappropriate voice changes, and the female vocalist is actually musical and enjoyable this time. The music is the usual CoF black-goth-death fare with good keyboards though, only much better than usual. Lets hope this is a sample for their next LP. The next track starts off very well with unusually thrashy guitars, heavy percussion, unique keyboard lines and serious atmosphere for CoF. It goes downhill in the middle of the song and loses its grip and compositional coherence but it still makes for an interesting change in style. Next comes a thrashy Misfits cover with very thick guitars - nothing special. Then another mediocre cover that fails to capture the mood of the song - Anthema's 'Sleepless'. A horrible techno remix of the title track follows, making me wonder what the hell bands think of when they pull this kind of stunt and invariably ruin their albums. And finally, a remake of Funeral in Carpathia with wider production and worse vocals that sounds like a rejected older version of the original. Altogether not a worthy purchase unless you fell in love with the superb title track, but definitely a teaser for (hopefully) good things to come.
Midian(Music for Nations - 2000)
I long ago gave up on keeping up with the lineup changes in Cradle of Filth, but whatever they did this time, they did right. Stand up and applaud, for they have returned to their death metal roots while taking a bold and serious leap forward at the same time. Quite a feat. After an unusually good introduction with creepy keyboards plus effects, Midian erupts into the darkest, most brutal and intense CoF song yet, with powerful epic riffing, Emperor-like full keyboards, and a dark buildup that gets one's blood boiling to violent levels. This defies being crammed into a pigeonhole together with Dimmu Borgir however, thanks to the much more complex and multi-faceted composition, the inimitable genres-straddling CoF sound, and of course, the variety of vocals. Dani has a much better feel for appropriate vocal switching this time and thankfully discarded his more annoying ones (including the banshee shriek). Among his new experiments however is a double layered vocal reminiscent of older Deicide's demonic growl plus rasp, and a seemingly Devil Doll influenced, eccentric and maniacal squeak-rasp that some may find annoying. The majority of the vocals and vocal changes are good however, and under control. As for the music, the intensity varies as always with CoF, this time with plenty of roaring riffs, death metal passages, experimental pieces of brilliance and the usual black metal blasts, 19th century gothic moods, layers of keyboards and even thrash/heavy metal sounds. The album as a whole is by far their most serious and enjoyable, and even though there are still some things that are not precisely to my taste, I find this album growing on me very well with every listen and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it strongly even to hardcore extreme metal fans.
Bitter Suites to Succubi(AbraCadaver - 2001)
I don't know about you, but Cradle of Filth has a tendency to get tiresome pretty fast for me in the sense that I get my fill the first time around they try something exciting and new. Every other new album either gets lost in cheese and theatrics or uninspired rehashes of old sounds, and perhaps the one thing that has kept them going for so long is the constant lineup changes and therefore regular infusions of new blood and ideas. I always saw them as something like Satanic teddy bears - you can dress up a teddy bear in black and menacing spikes and really make it look creepy, but you'll never feel true menace and power from it no matter how effective the job. CoF are always impossible to take seriously despite their obvious talent and, at times, vastly enjoyable music. But enough rambling. This latest album feels like a dumping ground for various tracks and basically serves as a quick way to release something on their own new label and make some money off their rabid fans. Included are four new tracks in Midian style, 2 interludes, one Sisters of Mercy cover, and 3 rerecorded tracks from the debut. The new stuff has occasional sections of brilliance but mostly sounds uninspired and offers nothing new since Midian. I.e. it is the usual complex blend of death, black, classic romanticism and vampiric goth with changing vocals, bursting, shrieking, pounding and wailing in all the right places. So fans will love the new material and indeed I can't say that it's bad. Then comes the merely acceptable and predictable cover, its biggest problem being that it sounds out of place on the album. And finally, the remakes will appeal to fans of CoF's tighter and more syrupy sound, but they sound like a big mistake to me. The charm and power of the debut is that it is much rawer sounding and often emphasizes death metal over dark romantics and keyboards. The remakes lose this edge. So to sum up: Fans and newcomers will love this release, other less enthusiastic interested parties should be wary.