Some people often try to squeeze Cradle of Filth into a genre-box, and most often it is the black metal genre, which is a genre the band never really belonged to and never will. There is so many influences in this band's music that you cannot pin-point it more than simply extreme metal, or even more simplified: Cradle of Filth. This is two labels the band and its countless members would rather have slapped unto the band, and rightfully so. Around this time the band was often compared to Dimmu Borgir and I do personally not see the link, even as a veteran listener. Two different bands with two distinctive sounds. So let's stop the comparison. 1998 is the year that Cradle of Filth's finest work saw the light of day and launched them further into stardom.
"But Elizabeth laughed, thirteen Autumns had passed, and She was a widow from god and His wrath, finally..."
As depicted in the booklet this is the fourth chapter in the Cradle of Filth anthology. "Cruelty and the Beast" is a concept album that follows the life and crimes of Hungarian Countess, Elizabeth Bathory. Compared to "Dusk... and Her Embrace" this album is not as gothic inspired, as this band never repeats itself. I would deem "Cruelty and the Beast" to be a more accessible album than its predecessor, as Dani Filth's vocals are more nurtured and he got a better grip of them this time. This means that the amount of screeching as been dialed down for a more diverse vocal, and this would also carry on to the band's next efforts. The line-up is almost identical to the previous album, the only change being Damien Gregori being replaced with Lector who only had a two-year stint with Cradle of Filth, leaving in 1999 to join Anathema. This album is sadly the last to feature Nicholas Barker, as he would later join Dimmu Borgir, but luckily they found a good replacement in Adrian Erlandsson. A common subject that often divides people when it comes to "Cruelty and the Beast" is the production. Somebody loves it, somebody hates it, and somebody is not too bothered by it. When reviewing these older titles, I try to exhume my memory and recall how I felt the first couple of times listening.
The sound of the drums definitely sounded odd to me back when I first was exposed to this record. Nowadays I do not have a single complaint with the production, but I guess that is something more than 10 years of listening will do to you. Some describe the drums as sounding like a typewriter and I can see where they're coming from, and it will come down to your first expression and/or if you can get accustomed to them. But hey, it is not like the early Bathory and Sodom records sounded great, is it? Some tracks from the album were actually re-mastered for the "Lovecraft & Witch Hearts" compilation in 2002 where they definitely adjusted the sound of the drums. As always, there is a lot happening on an album by this band and in the end, I am quite happy with the overall mix and sound of the instrumentation. Robin's bass is never left out and stands tall right next to the guitars, adding a satisfying depth to the music and helps elevating its sound. Lector brings some fantastic elements with him into Cradle and this album would not have been the same without his outstanding performance. A performance that is not out shunned in the mix, and together with the entire band it brings a dark and sinister atmosphere to the table. The guitar duo, Gian and Stuart, do not disappoint and just like on "Dusk... and Her Embrace" their work and riffs are simply incredible, and delivered with a great sense of variation. Unlike the guitar work on the previous album, you will not find as many '80s heavy metal inspired riffs, instead the band took a more extreme approach. And let us not forget the cast of three female vocalist providers who also appear on the album. Sarah Jezebel Deva with her atmospheric harmonies is an important ingredient when it comes to classic Cradle of Filth. Danielle Connington makes her last appearance on a Filth album, this time depicting a young Elizabeth Bathory. And last but definitely not least, we have the classy Ingrid Pitt lending her voice as the elder incarnation of Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth, mysterious. Cruelty brought thee orchids, from the bowels of the abyss."
Cradle of Filth shines the most when their albums follows the path of a concept album, instead of a more regular lyric driven album, and "Cruelty and the Beast" is the magnum opus of Cradle of Filth to pin-point just that. The structure of the music is once again varied and exciting, and that is a key point when making songs that reaches the length as they do on this record. Not two songs sound the same, which is a trademark of these notorious Brits. Most noticeable is the icing on the cake: the lyrics. Loaded with imagery and an outstanding structure, Dani Filth shows a remarkable talent with his poetry-inspired lyrics. Together with his distinctive vocals it is a perfect match and I cannot recommend it enough, as with many other works by Cradle, to sit down and read the lyrics while listening to the music.
A track like "Thirteen Autumns and a Widow" still manages to raise the hair on my neck and arms when it slowly builds up to the last stanza, and the double pedal kicks in together with the keyboard driven music. It never fails. "Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids" is a long-time favourite among fans, and for very good reason. The guitars is a big part of this, as this track is without a doubt the heaviest on the album and you'll see why just after one-and-a-half-minute into the song. Now to a track that I always used to skip back in the day, but now I find it essential to the story, and even the music of this album. The song in question is "Venus in Fear". This interlude track only features orchestration for the music part and then it features a moaning Elizabeth satisfying her lesbian fantasies and her excessive killing of young women who you can hear screaming for their lives. Speaking for myself, it was very provocative to listen to back in the day. What this brings to the album is, that after "Venus in Fear" the music becomes more extreme, as you're pummeled in the face with "Desire in Violent Overture", and lyrically Elizabeth's killings starts to mount afterwards. In short: A turning point for the album, both musically and lyrically. "Bathory Aria" is definitely a track worth mentioning as Cradle of Filth manages to pull off a track lasting for 11 minutes and not failing on delivering a marvelous and exciting composition. It is something that should simply be listened to instead of explained.
"Thirteen chimes of ancient strain, I conjure forth with dirge that fills the void with timbred pain, to fulfil my sexual urge."
I would definitely recommend that you go through this album from start until finish, just as you do not open a book and start at chapter five. This is a truly outstanding and exceptional listening experience. It's a shame that so many people hate this band on principle and almost as a trend. This album is without a doubt Cradle of Filth's magnum opus as everything reaches a higher level. A fantastic album where every member performs exceeds their potential delivering an album that has given me chills in the past, and will continue to do so in many years to come.
"Forever severed from the thrill of coming night, where slow death alone could grant Her flight."
R.I.P. Ingrid Pitt, 1937-2010.