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Album review: CRADLE OF FILTH Total Fucking Darkness

Posted by on May 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

There are few bands as divisive, as utterly polarizing, as Cradle of Filth. Bashing them was second nature from the mid to late nineties onward. Black metal pretenders, posers, false Satanists . . . the torrents of derision that came their way took on a life of their own. But for every hater, it seemed there were five black-eyeliner sporting goth-kids ready to embrace them. Most of the Cradle-hate stemmed from the simple fact that what they were in the beginning is not what they became later on; more Maiden than Mayhem, they took that template and added to it the keyboards and gothic pastiche of horror, literature, and history. And now, more than twenty years since its inception, Cradle of Filth is re-releasing Total Fucking Darkness, their third demo, on May 5th, 2014 via Mordgrimm Records. Is this just another polished re-recording of old material, or is there something special on offer here for fans to devour?

As it turns out, Dani Filth got together with former guitarist Paul Ryan and Cacophonous Records label founder Frater Nihil to compile this release. Harking back to the old days, Nihil is the man who signed the nascent band to their first recording deal. Working with renowned engineer Tim Turan (Emperor, Thin Lizzy), the band took great pains to bring something special to long-time fans. This limited release, bedecked by the artwork of occult painter Daniel Carter, begins with the track "Spattered in Faeces," the only remaining track from the lost Goetia sessions.

The story goes that Cradle of Filth had material for Goetia – what would have been their debut album – wiped when their first prospective label Tombstone went tits up back in 1992. The following five songs represent the bulk of the original Total Fucking Darkness demo. "Devil Mayfair (Advocatus Diaboli)" is another unreleased track. This and the rest of the songs were originally recorded during Samhain 1992, and most certainly would have appeared in some form or another on that Goetia album had it not been so tragically aborted. Also featured are a couple of instrumental tracks written by former keyboardist Ben Ryan.

So can anyone who is a fan of latter day Cradle of Filth find enjoyment in these rough, raw recordings? Another question would be, will anyone who was a fan of their early stuff, but has long since lost interest and moved on be bothered to care about this release?

I myself fell under Cradle of Filth's spell in the mid 90's, thanks to hearing "Funeral in Carpathia" off of the magnificent Dusk and Her Embrace album. To me, Dusk, Principle of Evil Made Flesh, and (yes I'm going to say it because I firmly believe it) Cruelty And the Beast were the pinnacle of Dani Filth's creative output. There were moments of splendor after that, but these became fewer as the noughties were on. With the exception of 2008's Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder, Cradle of Filth had replaced much of what made them dangerous and wild with the same orchestration and more careful songwriting that genre colleagues Dimmu Borgir employed. The results? Much more commercial success but far less of their early audience's approval. But Dani Filth is nothing if not persistent. He never cared much what people thought of him or his band, choosing instead to steer its course boldly to where he and only he wished it to go.

Let's look at this release based solely on the music. Forgetting all the preconceived notions, when you spin Total Fucking Darkness you will immediately notice that each song on offer is a ripping, bass-heavy blast of UK black metal goodness. "Spattered in Faeces," hidden gem that it is, shows that Cradle of Filth always enjoyed the keyboards and even then they were honing the horror vibe they would inject into future releases.

Any fan worth their black nail polish will be familiar with the morose "The Black Goddess Rises," but they will have to wipe off a few layers of grimy grave soil to recognize this version from the more familiar one off Principle of Evil Made Flesh. Dani's narrative is a croak from the basement of Hades, with none of his histrionic enunciation apparent. He had yet to take his gut-busting growl and wrench it up to the grating, staccato wail of future releases. Thus virtually all vocals on the demo are limited to pure low-register death-grunts.

The Forest Whispers Their Name...

The Forest Whispers Their Name…

That other unreleased track, "Devil Mayfair (Advocatus Diaboli)," is another lo-fi gem, replete with some ominous synthesizer accompaniment to go along with the basement dwelling production. There are times when the charm of the old days gets lost in the amateurish execution of the music; for example in some of the keyboard parts in "Unbridled At Dusk." One must keep in mind that they were kids when they made this demo, and the treatment it received in this reworking has preserved this aspect of the sound.

Overall, Total Fucking Darkness could act as the perfect gateway drug for younger Cradle of Filth fans to start experimenting with more extreme forms of music. It is certainly the most face-ripping kick in the ass they've put out in quite some time. Perhaps it can stand as a reminder that behind the stellar productions and opulent recording budgets, Cradle of Filth were just a couple of kids from Suffolk who, while absolutely melting faces with their own take on black metal, opted in the end to fill their chalices with wine instead of blood.  With Total Fucking Darkness, you still get the blood. Drink up because this album is surely going to sell out fast.

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