The 1990’s were a great time for dark metal.
Alongside bands like Moonspell, Paradise Lost, Tiamat, My Dying Bride, Samael and their slew of crushing albums, there was of course also Cradle Of Filth who gave us ‘The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh’ in 1994.
Listening back, that album was both ahead of its time while still having the sounds of a band trying to find themselves.
Its easy for people to dismiss Cradle these days considering what they have become.
The constantly revolving line-up grates.
But those early albums still retain a certain (black) magic that many others have imitated while never coming close to touching.
‘Dusk And Her Embrace’ was a fine piece of work. But for me ‘Cruelty And The Beast’ is where everything was taken to the absolute extreme to create in my opinion a near masterpiece.
I can still remember the day i purchased this album and literally having to pick my jaw off the floor when the album ended.
Nick Barker’s drumming, the twin guitar attack, Dani’s vocals and the ominous atmosphere all came together in gothic perfection. Speaking of Nick’s drumming, this is his finest hour along with Dimmu Borgir’s ‘Puritanical’ album.
This is also the album where they went with a full on concept, recreating the scarlet story of the blood countess Bathory.
Reading the lyrics while listening to the album just enhances it so much more and Dani’s poetically tongue in cheek lyrics are the icing on the cake. The attention and the amount of time that was obviously put into them is seriously impressive.
‘Once Upon Atrocity’ opens things up in typical Cradle fashion. A short instrumental piece which leads into the first proper track ‘Thirteen Autumns And A Widow’. Seven mintues of heavy metal perfection.
Dani’s high pitched vocals here are a vast improvement on ‘Dusk’. His spoken vocals are also amazing, drenched in reverb and sounding like Doug Bradley’s Pinhead from the Hellraiser movie.
Around the 4:30 mark we are hit with a riff that can only be described as Iron Maiden on crack cocaine as Dani recounts the countess fleeing from her castle as stigmata weeps between her legs. The track ends with a cool keyboard driven part led by incoming keyboardist Les ‘Lecter’ Smith.
‘Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids’ opens with the voice of the Countess herself before crashing into another maelstrom of furious riffing and that snare hit at 16 seconds in still sends chills up my spine.
The song features an excellent main riff which is repeated through-out and culminates in a squeal of pinch harmonics with Dani screeching ‘From the bowels of the abyss’ atop it.
Creepy keyboards lead us into ‘Beneath The Howling Stars’ and follows along the same lines as the previous two while still retaining the unpredictable twists and turns and countless layers of haunting synths.
These songs all have a similar sound while still working as pieces on their own. This is why the album works so well as a concept piece and it truly feels like a tale being told.
‘Venus In Fear’ is an interlude of female screams and orgasms where we can hear the Countess torturing her many victims.
I mentioned that this album is a near masterpiece and ‘Desire In Violent Overture’ is the track that makes it just fall short.
It’s essentially a thash metal song with an Iron Maiden inspired chorus. It just pales in comparison to the previous songs and if it had been left off the album it would have made it perfect.
‘The Twisted Nails Of Faith’ is another cracker and features Hammer Horror Actress Ingrid Pitt. She played the Countess in a film version of her called ‘Countess Dracula’ and I would imagine it was a dream come true for the band to have her on it as they (Dani) are such big fans of that specific genre.
Eleven minutes and split into three parts, ‘Bathory Aria’ is possibly one of the finest Cradle tracks. This song has it all. It’s thrashy, gothic, melodic and haunting with Dani’s spoken parts sounding especially effective and it culminates in a beautiful melodic part towards the end.
The final movement of the song once again features Ingrid Pitt as she tells how the Countess’ reign of terror comes to an end as she is barred up in her castle.
To be honest the album could have ended here but the final track ‘Lustmord And Wargasm’ is still a pretty cool track. I honestly think if they had swapped this track with ‘Desire In Violent Overture’ then the album would be a stone cold 10/10.
This year will see a remix/re-master of the album and while I’m very interested to hear it, I think the muddiness of the production on the original recording adds a certain charm to it that I fear may be lost with a remix.
I also think the line-up for this album was the best they ever had and apparantly Stuart Anstis still has some demo’s lying around of stuff they had been working on around that time.
I’d love to have heard even just one more album with this line-up still intact as I really think all the members seemed to gel together perfectly. Absolutely essential listening and Cradle’s peak album in my opinion.
– Ollie Gill ::: 16/02/18