Cradle of Filth - Dusk... and Her Embrace (1996)
A rare case of a complete package, Dusk and Her Embrace is an astonishing album of gothic symphonic black metal.
So here it is. Cradle of Filth may be an embarrassing name to many black metal fans these days, with many distancing themselves from anything related to these gothic Brits. But even the most "elite" of these disgusted individuals can't deny that once upon a time, Cradle of Filth had something impressive and unique to offer. As rushed as it was (for reasons I won't repeat here), the band's Vempire EP that was released just months before this album, displayed a band reaching new heights. They'd always been gothic, romantic and supposedly vampiric, but now they were more complex, exhilarating and a fair bit more brutal too! Dusk...and Her Embrace finds the band in the same sort of form, but with an entire album worth of compositions and a sound that's capable of handling their lofty ambitions.
Comparing the sound of Dusk to Vempire is a slightly baffling experience. It's quite easy for me to do it as my limited-edition version of Dusk contains a re-recorded version of Nocturnal Supremacy which was originally found on Vempire. When I initially compared these two versions, it seemed that Dusk had a far muddier production and perhaps lacked a bit of the heaviness found on the original. But strangely, I liked it more! Over time I've realised that the reason for this is subtlety. Cradle of Filth's music is by its very nature completely over the top and many of their albums come across as pretentious and over-theatrical for this reason. Dusk...and Her Embrace avoids this better than any of their other releases by not allowing the symphonic aspect, or Dani's vocals for that matter, to rule over the black metal. The guitars are heavy and upfront, and the drums are powerful, with the gothic flourishes mixed into the metal rather than the other way around.
The album doesn't slip up at all from the atmospheric intro through to the brilliant Haunted Shores. It holds a consistent atmosphere that's more gothic and vampiric than sexy and silly and has numerous moving classical moments among the blood pumping metal. When combined with the intelligent poetic lyrics which are loosely based on the work of Sheridan La Fanu and the visually superb album cover based on a photograph by Simon Marsden (I say based as the original certainly doesn't include a vampire of any sort), Dusk...and Her Embrace is a rare case of a band creating a complete package from start to finish. Highlights are aplenty, but Heaven Torn Asunder, Funeral in Carpathia, the title track and Haunted Shores are up there with the best tracks Cradle of Filth have ever written. I'm not ashamed in the slightest, despite the elitist's constant persuasions, to give Dusk...and Her Embrace the full marks it deserves.
If I were to give this album a precise genre description, I would settle with "symphonic gothic black metal" because that's really what this album is. Yet with all this debating over Cradle of Filth's genre, the band has been labeled "extreme metal" by many people including former guitarist Paul Allender. I'm one of those people who believe extreme metal is an umbrella term that shouldn't be labeled as an excuse for a genre. If I ever use the term "extreme metal" to describe bands from genres I like such as thrash metal, melodeath, metalcore, people might think I listen to bands like Cradle of Filth, which I don't. See, it's tough having to handpick extreme genres that you're comfortable with...
Dusk and Her Embrace is actually pretty good, except one thing; the awful production! The cloudy muffled mix separates the distance between instruments. Thin guitars, soft bass, drums that sound like they're trying to pound their way out of a quicksand swamp. That's another thing I can't stand about black metal, intentional lo-fi production sh*t. Then again, it's only their second album, and I'm sure they've improved on their production since then.
"Humana Inspired to Nightmare" is the typical keyboard-symphonic intro that ends with the sound of a burning pyre. The first real song "Heaven Torn Asunder" sounds a bit like Iron Maiden in the intro riff and verse, except with a horror vibe and tortured shrieks. Then it speeds up to speed metal before moving into kick-A black metal blast beats. That's probably their most Maiden-ish song here. Classic "Funeral In Carpathia" opens by violently ripping your a** open and f***ing through with high-speed relentless drumming. Over the top, but great for the extreme fans!
"A Gothic Romance" is a gothic black metal song with a few small jump-scares including the spoken narration "Portrait of the dead countess..." followed by maniacal witch laughter. One of my favorite tracks here! "Malice Through the Looking Glass" is definitely NOT one of my favorites, being too light on the riffs. Another favorite, the title track has intense blast beats that slice through your neck then put your head back in place repeatedly.
"The Graveyard by Moonlight" is another beautiful instrumental. "Beauty Slept in Sodom" is a wonderful epic track that is gothic black metal at its best. "Haunted Shores" has an inspirational war speech by Venom's Cronos after a lethal war through blazing riffs and fast thrashy drums that blast like a b***h.
Dusk and Her Embrace has some masterful potential despite the production being weak and the gothic black metal sound being too much for me. I would recommend it to new Cradle of Filth fans starting their journey with the debut album and debut EP. I'm sure heavier listeners wouldn't mind some Filth....
Favorites: "Funeral In Carpathia", "A Gothic Romance", "Dusk and Her Embrace", "Beauty Slept in Sodom"
I recall that most metal music tv channels only ever seemed to have one video for CoF throughout the noughties. I started to get sick of hearing/seeing Her Ghost in the Fog pretty quickly and (having missed the CoF boat back in the 90's) never got round to venturing into their discography. This wasn't just down to that overplaying of one track though, I perceived their pomp and circumstance to be a step too far at the time and had far cooler and less grandiose acts to appreciatively nod my head to. As a result, now at the tender age of 43 I am only just getting around to sitting down with my first full length from the band.
It is a good place to start too. Dusk... represents the perfect blend of majesty and regal symphonia mixed with scathing black metal attacks and death metal intensity. From the opening instrumental of Humana Inspired To Nightmare you know what you are dealing with here. It's menacing atmosphere and funereal tones set the scene perfectly. The album from here just continues to unfold it's macabre and nefarious layers, revealing the intense cold and howling misery of all corners of the devilish realm it opens up to the listener. Not that it is by any means a blastbeat infused storm of a record (it is in fact very well paced throughout) but the dominion the content of the record presides over leaves you breathless at times.
There's a lot to take in here and by definition the album is a grower that gets better with repeated listens as you unlock more with each spin. There is however a real sense of consistency to proceedings. The keys give a mighty sense of pomp across all of the tracks, enhancing the storytelling aspect of the album. Dani's theatrical vocals further enhance the thespian like feel to the performance overall. Indeed, tracks like A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil's Whore) play as intensely acted dramas in a theatre of hellish performances. The whole album feels well planned and orchestrated to great effect.
There is one grumble I have, which is very minor in the grander scheme of things. The spoken female vocal sections that pop up here and there are drab, dull and lifeless. Although perhaps in keeping with some part of the direction of the album they do still standout for the wrong reasons. Like I said though, only very minor and by no means are they the memory I take from this record. It is a classic in the genre most definitely, a true total package that delivers on many levels.
Godfathers of Symphonic Black Metal
Cradle of Filth has been a band I've only known since Nymphetamine, and that was probably my first Black Metal album of any kind. It didn't resonate with me and besides hearing stuff from these guys off and on never really was all that interested for one reason or another. I really don't know why I never went back and listened to their older stuff like this one. This is the album I always had pictured in my mind of what Black Metal was before I ever really listened. The first album I did listen to was Dimmu Borgir's Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia and though that album and this one Dusk... and Her Embrace are both symphonic death metal there's still a big difference in sound between them.
Dusk... and Her Embrace is so much more powerful then I had expected going into this. I'm not sure why I've had a negative connotation about these guys, but I have and it kinda hurt my experience going into this album. This is like a haunted forest in a snow storm. The other albums I've listened to for The North's 2nd Decade challenge have been way more atmospheric and you can live in that open ambient space. The ambiance in this album full of pounding moving drums and unrelenting guitar rifts. There's not a bunch of down time in this album which is a pleasant change of pace for everything else. Even Dani's voice helps keep the story moving along nicely. Even when the songs do get a bit 'slower' they still move a story along. There's always something around the corner such as a wolf's howl that keeps you guessing and engaged in.
Everything is good in this album. I'm not sure why, but I can't give this a 5* rating. It feels like it is missing something to me, maybe it's an album that I feel won't stay with me. I've listened to this a few times, and even have wanted to go back and listen to it again a few times more for pleasure before writing this review but I have this feeling like the rest of the bands discography that I will remember it fondly but rarely ever put it on. There's nothing earwormy (for lack of a better real word), that sticks out and urge me to look it up again and listen. It's really good though, and makes me when I have more time to really dive into the rest of their discography and see where they go from one of their earliest records until now.