Yano, the more I think about it, the more it becomes painfully apparent that Cradle of
Filth are the spiritual successors to Spinal Tap. It's like life imitating art, in a way.
The parallels are blinding in both their existence and number:
- Spinal Tap mentioned having previously written a concept album based on a serial killer - "Saucy Jack." The Filth actually did write such an album ("Cruelty and the Beast," from 1998)
- Spinal Tap went out on stage in make-up and extremely tight trousers with "armadillos" in them. Get the Cradle of Filth DVD "Peace through Superior Firepower" and marvel at frontman Dani Filth and his codpiece.
- Although you won't see Dani Filth, Paul Allender and Charles Hedger burst out of malfunctioning cocoons on stage, you will see a flappy-dressed woman stroll onto the stage, climb up a rope, and then stay up there on it while a man dressed as a goblin capers onto the stage and starts swinging her round whilst thinking something along the lines of, "Bloody hell. Five years at RADA and I'm the goblin." (ibid)
- While Paul Allender isn't likely to get carried away during a solo and end up playing it while on his back and have to be pulled upright by a stagehand, Dani will almost get clonked on the back of the skull by a swinging microphone dangling from the rafters (live show, Paris, Le Bataclan, November 2006.)
- Both have had album covers refused and altered by their label because Wal-Mart refused to carry it (original cover to 2006's "Thornography").
- And finally, in the film "This Is Spinal Tap" the director (played by real life director Rob Reiner), referred to the "sights, the sounds... the smells" of a band on tour. After two hours of five large, hairy men (and Dani Filth) clad in skintight leather and thrashing about on stage, would YOU get back in the tour bus without a gas mask?!
So the message is clear. Dani, if you're reading this, get the folks together and start practicing "Stonehenge." It's only a matter of time anyhow. In fact, speaking of which, I personally think they'd do a really good job of it.
"Yes, but what are they actually like?"
Well, nowadays they're a bit mediocre really, but judging by the stuff they were inflicting on the world ten years ago or thereabouts, they used to be the veritable mutt's nutts. Sonically they're a mélange of second-wave black metal, European thrash (mainly Sabbat and Celtic Frost), the odd tinge of Iron Maiden style riffing, a healthy dose of goth (albeit the "I watched too many Hammer Films" school of goth rather than the languid post-punk and severe haircuts school), and, of course, frontman Dani Filth (yes, that is his real name now; prior to 2005 he was named Daniel Lloyd Davey) and his all-over-the-place vocals that range from death grunts to Norwegian black metal screeching and everything in between. Amazingly, when this formula works, it works well. Unfortunately,
since about 2001, the lure of commercial success seems to have dulled their edge a wee bit; many of their albums recently have been mildly lacklustre, to say the least. In fact, I suspect I know exactly where they went off the rails in that respect, but more on that later.
But as for now... let's have a look at the history of this, arguably Britain's most prominent extreme metal export. I say arguably because although Napalm Death and Carcass were both more influential on extreme metal in general, the Filth are the most well known. In fact, I heard somewhere that Cradle of Filth is the second biggest selling British metal act ever, behind only Iron Maiden, though I've since lost the source for this.
Spattered in Faeces - 1991-95
One thing you'll probably have to try to keep in mind when trawling through the Filth's history is the endless series of lineup changes that the band has undergone, for various reasons that I can't be bothered to keep track of. In fact, the only constants in the band's history are Dani Filth (vocals), and to a lesser extent Paul Allender (lead guitar) and Sarah Jane Ferridge (backing vox, goes by the pseudonym "Sarah Jezebel Deva"). Some (possibly disgruntled) ex members have referred to the band as "Dani and the Filths," notably ex-keyboardist Les Smith, in reference to this sort of thing, also implying that the main thing tying the band together is the allegedly mammoth ego of the five-foot-
three Ipswich resident who fronts the band and who founded it some time in 1991 with some folks he knew from school. They started out more, oddly enough, as a death/thrash band, almost grindcore (!) if you will; their first release during their demo era was called "A Pungent and Sexual Miasma" and was a split with a grindcore band called Malediction. The only indication of their future black/goth/thrash/glam sound was a demo track called "Graveyard by Moonlight" which later evolved into the similarly named song on their 1997 album "Dusk and her Embrace." By 1993, though, with the "Total Fucking Darkness" demo, things had started to move in the now familiar Filthy direction - and in the same year they recorded an album called "Goetia." Which was never
released due to their label at the time going bust and studio bills remaining unpaid and thus the resultant wiping of the master tapes. On their official site Dani says about this that it was no great loss, but lamented the demise of the brilliantly named track "Spattered in Faeces." Which still sounds a little bit grindcore, wouldn't you say?
So in 1994 they finally released a full-length album, entitled "The Principle of Evil Made Flesh".
Nowadays it's really not much to listen to; it seems to my mind overambitious considering the rather
small recording budget they had at the time. What is more, Dani's vocals seem a lot more pedestrian
than the rather vampyric screech they would later evolve into. However, despite its shortcomings,
"Principle" arrived in the right place at the right time, for 1994 was the year, if you'll remember
your heavy metal history, that black metal truly took off, with landmark releases such as
Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas," Emperor's "In the Nightside Eclipse," Enslaved's
"Frost", and so forth. All of which are better albums than the first Cradle offering, but that's by
the by. On the plus side, though, it did feature Nick Barker on drums, who was arguably their best
ever drummer and one of the more proficient BM percussionists, although I wouldn't put him in the
same league as Horgh of Immortal or Hellhammer of Mayhem.
The result of this woefully underproduced disc? Why, the chance to jump ship from Cacophonous
Records and onto Music For Nations. With the attendant extra recording budget that would
Heaven Torn Asunder - 1996-99
Oh boy did they use it.
Those people who admit liking Cradle of Filth would most likely point to this era as to why they
deserved their success in the first place. For they kicked off with the EP entitled "VEmpire or Dark
Faerytales in Phallustein." This, in 1996, which featured the first appearance of Sarah Jane Ferridge
on backing vox, was, astoundingly, simply the offcuts from the full-length they were working on at
the time, bolted together, and flogged as an EP. It included a proper recording of their earlier song
"The Forest Whispers My Name," and in this version it actually sounded like the Wild Hunt
careened through the boughs, rather than just putting it in the lyrics. It was, dare I say it, a little
bit pagan. And not only that, but they expanded their short bridge track entitled "A Dream of
Wolves in the Snow" from their earlier days into the eleven-minute epic "Queen of Winter, Throned,"
and then followed it up with the furious, driving "Nocturnal Supremacy."
1997 saw the band's true colours begin to show, though. Abandoning a bit the former black metal
flailing they'd served the audience beforehand, they instead adopted a more gothic mien. Though this
had shown before, it was only with the release of "Dusk and Her Embrace" in 1997 that it really took
front seat. It was this album that showed that they were more than just a one trick pony, as it was
here they mastered the art of the atmospheric black metal song. Which, incidentally, is not easy.
They managed it by lathering on the effects much as they divested themselves, for that year only, of
the corpse paint. On this release, the standout tracks are by far the title track, and "Funeral in
Carpathia." The former of these was furious, screaming, flailing, and structured in such a way that it
built up from a fairly slow and dirge-like opening, getting more and more intense, until about halfway
through, everything stops for the line, "DUSK AND HER EMBRACE!!!" upon where it switches into total
all-out metal attack mode. Indeed, this number's still a favourite at live shows, and since their live
shows are now awash with 15 year old baby goths, it allows the old-school Filth fans to take
advantage of the former mallrats' bemusal to grab them, chuck them into the pit and then proceed to
thoroughly brutalise them. And as for "Funeral in Carpathia," this adopts a very nice mirror-type
structure, even down to the individual riff, while still not disappearing up its own arse. Lyrically,
it was, as you would expect, endless slabs of molten mozzarella about vampyres and dark erotica
and coming to thee with eyes like asphodel, but then again, where would any metal band be without the
cheese? The fact is that not any band can get away with songs whose lyrics are based on such fantasy
cliché without the instrumentalism to back it up. Just as Bolt Thrower would have been derided as
soap-dodging neckbeards due to their lyrics revolving entirely around Warhammer 40K and its
trappings, so would Cradle of Filth have been derided as juvenile Hammer Film obsessives without
their songwriting talent at this time.
The brain behind these compositions, though, was the new guitarist, one Gian Pyras, who apparently
now plays for Christian Death. Pyras would stay with the band until about 2001, which makes him one
of the longer serving members, and it was during his tenure that the Filth were at their best. Sorry,
folks, but they shoulda kept him.
And if 1997 was the year that they took off musically, 1998 was the year they took off in other
aspects. In Spinal Tap fashion, they released a concept album based on a serial killer. Specifically,
Elizabeth Báthory. And if this wasn't enough, "Cruelty and the Beast" featured, on guest vocals,
Ingrid Pitt. Yes, folks. That Ingrid Pitt. The one who was in Hammer Films' schlock-fest based
on the legend of that individual as Lizzie B herself. How they managed this I never understood. And
then, on top of all that, one song on "Cruelty" entitled "Thirteen Autumns and a Widow" could best be
described as a heavy metal waltz. Though the production is more than a little malodorous; Sarah Jane
Ferridge was apparently aghast at the time that her parts were all but inaudible.
And there was controversy. With the first sniffings of commercial success, somebody (probably Dani)
decided to try and court drama by designing a certain notorious band shirt. You may have seen this
one. It has on the front the band's logo and an image of a nun frigging at herself, and on the back,
in five-inch high letters, the phrase "JESUS IS A CUNT." The amount of butthurt this caused was off
the scale. In fact, documented cases exist of people being nicked for wearing it in public places.
And a psychologist at the University of Strathclyde said that wearing that shirt indicated a
personality disorder. Needless to say, it sold like a bastard.
And there was other media interest as well. The BBC series "Living with the Enemy" had the
disapproving mother of a teenaged Filth fan go on tour with the band that year, in which she decried
the band's music and image and fanbase, and referred to the mosh at one of their shows as
"barbaric." Which makes me wonder what she'd have thought of the pits at a German thrash
concert, all things considered. Although oddly enough this was the only episode of the series in which
some sort of resolution was reached between the parties, so every cloud has a silver lining.
Personally, if they really wanted to cause that much conflict and things in an episode of this
programme involving metal, they should have got a devoutly Christian parent to tag along with a band
like Enslaved or Amon Amarth or one of the many other deeply pagan metal bands extant. Ideally if
one of the members had been involved in the Norwegian church burnings earlier in the decade. But that's
my personal prejudice.
Alas, though, with all this expansion in popularity that the Filth were undergoing, and so forth,
something had to give.
Her Ghost in the Fog - 2000-2002
In 2000 the band released "Midian," which was the album that propelled them almost into the
mainstream. Now Midian wasn't a bad album. From Dani Filth's reinventing, partially, of his voice
as a rhythm instrument (most apparent on opening song "Cthulhu Dawn"), to the evident Iron Maiden
worship of "Death Magick for Adepts," combined with a distinctly heavier sound than previous works,
"Midian" was pretty worthwhile, although not up to the standard of "VEmpire" or "Dusk and Her Embrace."
But, it had one major chink in its armour.
The song "Her Ghost in the Fog."
Not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bad song, it was easily the catchiest thing they'd done to
that date, despite being the weakest song on the album. Unfortunately, it found its way onto the
soundtrack for a questionable teeny horror film called "Ginger Snaps." You may have seen it. The
plot involves a pair of depressive Mansonites with something akin to the Paris metro map carved
into their limbs (probably), one of whom turns into a werewolf, and there's this whole clumsy metaphor
about menarche involved as well. It's best avoided. But I digress. "Her Ghost in the Fog" found its
way onto the soundtrack and thus found itself lapped up by the first wave of giant-trousered mallrats
who unfortunately now make up the lion's share of the Filth's fanbase. They especially lapped it up
when they discovered that the song is, in fact, a story song involving the protagonist's doomed love
with a local woman suspected of witchcraft which resulted in the latter being "cut free of this
world" and the subsequent arson of the local church by said protagonist. Which ticks just
about every baby goth interest box, doesn't it? And the video featured Dani and the band thrashing
it out in a snow-covered forest intercut with a very pale dark-haired girl in a long, raggedy dress
wandering through same.
Commercial approbation followed in huge volumes, and the band started its unfortunate slide into
It didn't help that in 2001, following the "Bitter Suites to Succubi" EP, which consisted of a
handful of new tracks, some good, some not, and re-recordings of "Summer Dying Fast," "The Principle
of Evil Made Flesh," and "The Black Goddess Rises," alongside a Sisters of Mercy cover, guitarist
Gian Pyras quit. I'm not sure if he jumped or was pushed, myself; either way, it was not a good move,
for it was he that was responsible for Cradle's best work in that department. Also their drummer Nick
Barker jumped ship and went over to play for symphonic black metal rivals Dimmu Borgir. As a
result, 2002 saw the only semi-stable lineup the band had ever had go down the tubes and return to the
"Dani and the Filths" model that they're still with.
On the plus side (for them at least), they got a record deal with Sony BMG.
Coffin Fodder - 2003-present
And their major label debut, 2003's "Damnation and a Day," suffered from two massive flaws that
seem to be surprisingly common to metal bands that get into the major leagues. Firstly, the album was
far too long at 17 tracks, including an intro and three bridge tracks. Secondly, it was wildly
inconsistent. Of the 13 songs that actually are songs on there, there are about four or five that are
worth the time and effort to listen to. And surprise surprise, three of these five or so were released
as singles with accompanying large-budgeted videos - "The Promise of Fever," "Mannequin," and
"Babalon AD (So Glad for the Madness)" The video to this last one is particularly strange; it starts
with a woman cleaning a public toilet in which she finds a copy of the Financial Times and a video
camera, on which is recorded what appears to be an homage to 120 Days of Sodom.
From there on in, they released "Nymphetamine" in 2004 which was also distinctly mediocre, and
"Thornography" in 2006 which was a bit better but still unconvincing. I honestly cannot be arsed to
go into detail about this period in their history, although it does bear mentioning that the band seems
increasingly to be driven by Dani's ego. For instance, when I went to see them in November 2006 in
Paris, it wasn't a bad show, even if there was one point during which Dani mounted the drummer's
platform and for a horrible moment I thought he was going to attempt a backflip, but I cannot help
remembering that when Dani left the stage for the instrumental "Rise of the Pentagram," everyone else
in the band looked relieved that the aforementioned five-foot-three lead singer wasn't going to be
stealing their thunder. And sure enough, when he returned, they all assumed the position once
It also doesn't convince me that this year (2008) they decided to release a redone edition of
"Thornography" called "Harder, Darker, Faster" which is essentially the same but with a few bonus
tracks on the end and a rather amusing cover of "Stay" by Shakespeare's Sister.
So as for the future, well, to my mind 2009 will be a watershed year for them. Either they'll
rediscover the old magick they once had (and hopefully rehire Gian Pyras) and stop writing pedestrian
songs to appeal to Kerrang Kids, and thus will continue their journey as the spiritual successors to
Spinal Tap, or they'll become increasingly commercialistic and lame and will end up becoming the
spiritual successors to KISS. One can only hope that this latter path is the one they avoid at all
UPDATE - They released an album on October 25, 2008 called Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder. It's a big step in the right direction for them methinks. And suitably Spinal Tap-esque, being subtitled, "The life and crimes of Gilles de Rais." They've also sidelined Sarah Jane Ferridge somewhat, who only appears on one song, "The Death of Love."
- A Pungent and Sexual Miasma, 1991 (split with Malediction)
- The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, 1994
- VEmpire, or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein, 1996 (EP)
- Dusk and Her Embrace, 1997
- Cruelty and the Beast, 1998
- Midian, 2000
- Bitter Suites to Succubi, 2001 (EP)
- Lovecraft and Witch Hearts, 2002 (compilation)
- Damnation and a Day, 2003
- Nymphetamine, 2004
- Thornography, 2006
- Harder, Darker, Faster, 2008
- Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder, 2008