I first discovered Cradle of Filth via the temporary resurrection of Headbanger’s Ball in 2003, when their video for “Mannequin” was in heavy rotation. This catchy yet creepy song stuck with me and helped me remember the band when I started getting more into black metal the following year, picking up the Lovecraft and Witch Hearts compilation and getting thoroughly hooked. “But they’re not really black metal, what are you talking about?!” Ah yes, I understood early on how controversial the band was within black metal circles. They, along with Dimmu Borgir and Satyricon, had achieved some crossover mainstream success in the mid-2000s. And thus this leads us into my Nine Circles ov…Cradle of Filth.
I believe Fenriz himself once said, “You can either have high sales or high credibility, now CHOOSE, people!” I understand his suspicion of bands that manage to be appealing to a wider audience, as it means they must have watered down whatever was unique about their sound. However, to throw this onto Cradle of Filth is deeply unfair, as it ignores the legacy of their best work. Although they eventually moved on and evolved, they were very much accepted within black metal in their early years, touring with Emperor in 1993 and then with Gorgoroth in 1995.
Alas, the band’s penchant for flashy imagery, costumes, makeup and British literature makes them fascinating to watch, but also an easy target. Anything taken very seriously is open to scorn and cynicism. But to the band’s credit, they’ve always had a sense of humor to complement their image, poking fun at Darkthrone’s famous liner notes stating: “Cradle of Filth play with themselves, exclusively.”
It is true that the band went through a difficult period following their mainstream success on Damnation and a Day and Nymphetamine. Their 2006-2012 output contains their four worst records, ones I tried hard to defend in album reviews. The band seemed to be torn between staying connected to their black and death metal roots while still being palatable enough to kids who shopped at Hot Topic and wanted something that reminded them of Marilyn Manson but with more riffs. But since 2015, the band finds themselves in a late-career golden age, much like their countrymen in Paradise Lose and My Dying Bride. Maybe it’s something in the water in Britain.
I’d like to emphasize the band at their best, while also going beyond some of the super-popular songs. Therefore, I’m leaving out well-known bangers like “From the Cradle to Enslave,” “Her Ghost in the Fog,” “Mannequin,” and “Nymphetamine (Overdose),” but will include them at the end of the Spotify playlist to reward your patience!
Anyway, the forest whispers your name. Let us proceed.
“The Principle of Evil Made Flesh” (from The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, 1994)
That filthy guitar tone. The violent drumming. THAT SCREAM! The band’s debut album finds them progress from their demo days to a fully operational symphonic black metal band. The Bathory influence in these early days is clear, and the songs here would work well on a playlist with Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse. And yet there is a lot that already separates Cradle from their brethren across the North Sea, from the classic-style guitar solos to the more grandiose song structures.
“The Forest Whispers My Name” (from The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, 1994)
When people think of catchy synth lines from Cradle, they usually think of “From the Cradle to Enslave.” But they shouldn’t forget this early, hypnotic classic either. The first minute evokes some dark forest in the British countryside, with a single ghostly figure passing through the trees, and suddenly vanishing. This also contains an early use of the deep-voiced/Alan Rickman-like voice-overs (whenever I hear “Tortured Soul Asylum,” I always imagine Snape saying the words).
“Dusk and Her Embrace” (from Dusk and Her Embrace, 1997)
Let me get this out of the way. This is my favorite Cradle of Filth song ever. Nothing will ever top this for me. This song is packed with more memorable riffs than most bands manage in their entire career. It also perfectly balances the band’s black metal early days with the Gothic approach they would become known for. There’s also the hardcore bridge at 1:55 that adds another dimension to the song, along with the dramatic quiet moments followed by horrifying screams and blasts. I will never, ever tire of this song.
“Funeral in Carpathia” (from Dusk and Her Embrace, 1997)
While their 1997 album is correctly considered their departure from black metal, Cradle of Filth still had plenty of unholy pagan fire left in them. This song’s riffing style wouldn’t be so far out of place with The Somberlain or Ancient God of Evil. And there’s that great moment at 2:50 where you hear a woman’s voice say “never leave me,” followed by an awesome tapping bridge repeated later in the song.
“Cruelty Brought Three Orchids” (from Cruelty and the Beast, 1998)
A concept album about the life of Elizabeth Bathory, Cruelty and the Beast is the first album that shows the Cradle most audiences are used to. While the album is undeniably meant to stand as a whole unit, this song, along with “Beneath the Howling Stars” and “The Twisted Nails of Faith” are obvious standouts.
“Cthulhu Dawn” (from Midian, 2000)
Midian basically plays like a greatest hits album on its own: “Her Ghost in the Fog,” “Lord Abortion,” “Saffron’s Curse.” This song contains some fantastic organ and synth lines, both entrancing and hypnotic at the same time. Though the album does have one of the bands more unfortunate album covers.
“Nemesis” (from Nymphetamine, 2004)
Obviously, most people know this album for the title track. It’s the reason the album sold more than 100,000 copies in the United States alone, and more than 1 million worldwide. But I’d argue that “Nemesis” is the crown jewel of this divisive record, even with the cheesy chanting of “Black is my heart / black is my heart / black is my heart / I am NEMESIS!”
“Yours Immortally” (from Hammer of the Witches, 2015)
But never mind all of that. The band’s last two albums easily rank with their first four, with the band creating riff-centric metal with a wealth of atmosphere and blood-curdling screams to provide the perfect backdrop. “Yours Immortally” is an example of the band’s curious ability to smuggle thrash metal in through Cradle customs without anyone noticing that it sounds like thrash.
“Heartbreak and Seance” (from Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay, 2017)
The big single from last year’s Cryptoriana. The flashy guitars are quite a sound to behold here, especially the descending arrangement eerily reminiscent of “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.” (No really!) Every great and outrageous quality of Cradle of Filth is on display here: great riffs, insane drumming, Dani’s high-pitch screaming, choral chants, synths. It’s a hearty feast of dark romanticism. It’s good to have this Cradle back. May they continue to rage down the ages.
– J. Andrew