They might be legends of metal today, but in August 1996 England’s outrageous Cradle Of Filth were still relative upstarts when they unleashed Dusk…and Her Embrace.
The group formed in 1991, and after releasing three demos landed a deal with Cacophonous Records that produced two releases which, although showcasing plenty of ferociousness, lacked the lush Gothic flavor that came with their iconic breakthrough release Dusk…and Her Embrace. That second full-length album would become their debut for Music For Nations and an important cornerstone of their catalog.
When I call Dani Filth in England, he has just finished a photo shoot with his band Devilment, a venture outside of Cradle Of Filth with a less frenetic approach. The man still exudes the same passion for his music as he did when I first interviewed him about Cradle’s Midian album back in 2000. (Although that afternoon he was rather hungover from partying, so we conducted the interview in a dark office while he readjusted to daytime. A true metal vampire.)
When I remark that the idea of 20 years passing since Dusk first came out kind of freaks me out, he retorts good naturedly, “It’s freaking you out?”
Dusk…and Her Embrace is a landmark album in the black metal genre for a many different reasons, but a couple stand above the rest.
First, it helped Cradle solidify a Gothic-flavored sound that would later lead them to explore different musical vistas beyond black metal and provoke endless debates over their genre credentials. Second, it bucked the trend of the more belligerent and misanthropic flavor of Norwegian black metal, which had developed an infamous reputation for isolated incidents of murder and church burnings. Dusk‘s green-tinted photo imagery and darkly romantic lyrics made it seem like Dani and the boys had stepped out of 19th-century Victorian England and plugged into late 20th-century metal.
The circumstances surrounding the album’s creation are steeped in industry politics and interpersonal issues. The band was dissatisfied with the financial situation with Cacophonous Records and their efforts to push their 1994 debut The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh, a good but not overwhelming effort. They spent a year in court trying to sever ties with the label, which generated friction on all sides.
“I won’t go into it,” Dani says of the entire situation. “I’ve got a taxi coming in half an hour, and it’s literally opening Pandora’s box because it’s so confusing about what happened. It’s irrelevant really. All that’s relevant is that the album came out.”
Dusk…and Her Embrace was recorded twice. “After the incident with the record company we won the rights to re-record Dusk,” recalls Dani. As leverage to get off of Cacophonous they had released V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein in early 1996. “[Then] we had a new lineup that was fine with re-recording everything [on Dusk].”
After the dust settled on their legal woes, Dani and drummer Nicolas Barker remained, while guitarists Paul Allender and Paul Ryan, bassist Jon Kennedy, and keyboardist Benjamin Ryan departed to be replaced by guitarists Stuart Anstis and Gian Pyres, bassist Robin Graves, and keyboardist Damien Gregori. (Allender would return in 2000 for a 14-year run.)
“We’re eternally grateful because it was a turning point in our career. We took a U-turn, as it were.”—Dani Filth.
The original version of the album, finally released this past summer as Dusk…and Her Embrace: The Original Sin, was more raw and in your face. Dani sounded more like a typical black metal vocalist of the time, the track order was different, and the album was bereft of what would become the centerpiece of the album, the grand, symphonic sounding “Malice Through The Looking Glass,” which has become a concert mainstay. The original album opener “Nocturnal Supremacy” wound up surfacing on the V Empire EP.
While the original version of Dusk (recorded around Christmas 1995) had plenty of vim and vigor propelling it, version 2.0, produced by Kit Woolven (known for his work with Thin Lizzy), sounded stronger, Dani’s shrieking grew more distinctive (he claims it was due to better production), and, yes, the production values were slicker. While it had been de rigueur for black metal bands to churn out tinny-sounding, low-fi recordings that lent them credibility with staunchly underground supporters, Cradle wanted to sound big. And they wanted to do whatever it took to achieve that sound.
“He gave us a soundtrack quality,” notes Dani of Woolven. “A really lush, really produced sound, for which we’re eternally grateful because it was a turning point in our career. We took a U-turn, as it were.”
There’s plenty of bombast hurtling through the album, but “Malice Through The Looking Glass” served up symphonic keyboards that amped up the majesty of the music. The use of Sarah Jezebel Deva’s ghostly vocals added an extra dimension to “Funeral In Carpathia” and the multi-tempo title track. The closing track “Haunted Shores” featured a spoken invocation from Venom frontman Cronos over a guitar-less bed of double bass drums and synths. Varying the tempos and dynamics throughout gave the music extra kick and greater depth. The limited edition “Coffin Box” version included the instrumental “Carmilla’s Masque” and a cover of Slayer’s “Hell Awaits”.
Even with such sonic expansion, the world was still coming to grips with their sound.
Dani recalls the “Gods Of Darkness” tour in 1997 that Cradle headlined supported by Dimmu Borgir, Dissection, and In Flames. “We did 23 dates all around Europe,” he recalls fondly of a time when the extreme metal movement was in its infancy. “Things grow and the whole In Flames/Dimmu/Dissection [tour] is the stuff of legend. They were big gigs, but they weren’t massive. If we did it now, it would be sold out in a minute.”
There were also the Spinal Tap moments. “We also did a tour with Emperor [in 1993], and we played in Edinburgh for four people. I don’t think he [club owner] advertised the show, because the next day we had 200 people [elsewhere]. You tell that to people now, and they say, ‘No, you’re lying!’ ”
The visual elements that have a strong tie-in to the Cradle experience also blossomed on Dusk…and Her Embrace. Photographers Simon Marsden, Salvatore, and Chris Bell supplied the sinister imagery that invoked Hammer horror films, in collaboration with art director Nigel Wingrove, a low-budget horror filmmaker who founded cult movie distribution company Redemption Films in 1992 and subsequently championed the genre work of directors like Jean Rollin, Pete Walker, Jess Franco and Dario Argento. The models they used for Dusk were part of the Goth scene that Dani and these artists had been immersed in at the time.
“I’m actually sitting two doors away from the Slimelight, which is a very famous Goth club,” remarks Dani during our interview.
“Twenty years ago I used to go to that place—it’s still open—and all the upcoming girls were in the party scene, in the studio, in leather, Lycra, nylon. A lot of them either ended up on our [band] shirts or in our beds, as in the case of our drummer since he bedded the whole of London. Or primarily in [the indie horror movie] Cradle Of Fear. A lot of said people ended up in jobs pertaining to that. For example, Emily Booth presents Horror Channel in England now, which is on a big Sky channel. Emma Red is a big fashion model now. Eileen Daly was a big fashion model, went a bit weird, and then ended up on one of those programs with Simon Cowell [X Factor].”
Over the years Cradle of Filth some detractors have decried their seemingly more commercial approach to black or extreme metal—as an old-school metal fan who railed against the same things when I was younger, I get the idea—and those two subgenres have proven inherently uncommercial when compared with larger movements in the scene. Much like the Goth scene, the black metal world has had those who have understandably resisted larger growth to hold onto the insular nature of their scene, and a band like Cradle certainly did not want to be scrounging around the underground forever.
Building an audience that appreciates your music and scene is not a bad thing, although the danger exists for them to be diluted by mainstream mediocrity. Black and extreme metal has never had to worry about having actual hit songs, although Cradle Of Filth earning a Grammy nomination in 2005 probably further agitated genre purists.
“When anybody thinks about starting a band, they don’t picture themselves playing in front of two people,” notes Dani. “In their heads, they’re going, ‘I’m here on a big stage.’ We thought about the ways to go there. It wasn’t easy.” Their perseverance and vision certainly has played out well for their frontman, who has been the driving force of the band since the beginning.
“When Cradle started we wanted to catch people’s imagination,” he says. They also captured their financial support. “I won’t lie, I’ve got three cars, but I haven’t gotten a Lamborghini. I love what I do, absolutely love it. My house looks like a fucking Victorian graveyard or a weird wing at the British Museum circa 1888.”
Dani says that the forthcoming Cradle Of Filth album, which has been written and is in preparations for recording, is due out next September and “is going to be quintessentially British, very Victorian/Gothic horror, and the music is a little bit like Dusk…and Her Embrace and Cruelty And The Beast. More modern, but it’s got that lengthy prog twist to it where it’s like Iron Maiden on speed.”
The vocalist is currently promoting his other band Devilment, which some of have deemed a side project but which he declares is a full on band now that they are on the cusp of releasing their second album, Devilment II: The Mephisto Waltzes.
He says if you were to compare Cradle and Devilment lyrically, it would be like Byron or Shelley compared with Roald Dahl. Cradle has a distinctly Victorian Gothic vibe to much of their music, but Devilment—whose new album offers more mid-tempo songs, some female vocals, and song titles like “Hitchcock Blonde” and “Father Dali”—makes more of a nod to the modern; at least the mid-20th Century. The band members range in age from 28 to 43, and their influences differ from those of Dani’s original band.
Cradle Of Filth keeps Dani Filth plenty busy, and he has other personal responsibilities as well, but his desire to create has kept him involved with Devilment.
“I’ve got a wife, daughter, house, cars and the usual shit that goes with it,” he says of his life. “I’ve got to mow the lawn, etcetera. But at the same time, I do have down time. And I don’t play golf like Alice Cooper, so I’m going to carry on. I don’t know how long it will last, but I can say that the new Devilment album is brilliant. I love it. The reaction has literally been amazing. I don’t need to worry about it because I’ve got another band, but I’m pleased because I know it’s good and slowly people are coming around to it.”
That sounds like the dawn of Cradle all over again.