In Criminally Slept-On, Schuler Benson takes a look at some of the most underrated tracks from his favorite prolific bands’ back catalogs.
Cradle of Filth occupies an odd place in the heavy music pantheon. While the band can’t really have been called “black metal” any time after their debut full-length, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh (and even that record’s been lambasted by purists), to say that Cradle haven’t staked a claim in spirit on black metal’s extremity or obscenity is to ignore the band’s output altogether. Over the years, as they’ve fallen in and out of favor with varying sub-genre aficionados, one function they’ve always served well is that of a “gateway drug” of sorts; without Cradle of Filth, from the late ‘90s up until today, there’s no telling how many countless fans would never have made their way to more visible black/death mainstays like Watain and Behemoth, to acts treading the underground’s lower levels, cloaked in infinitely more obscurity ( case-in-point: a dude I turned on to Cradle of Filth in 2012 now sports a Mgla shirt in his Facebook profile picture).
It’s not to say the band hasn’t had their share of missteps, some arriving hand-in-hand with sole Cradle mainstay Dani Filth’s penchant for wholesale lineup shifts. I’ve been with the band since the Cruelty and The Beast album, and while they’ve thrown me for a loop a time or two, I’ve never felt the urge to disavow them completely. There’s always something about each album that feels fresh and enjoyable, even if it’s purely the novelty of an interesting album concept. And the band’s been especially prolific. Last summer saw them release Hammer of The Witches, their eleventh album and, for the umpteenth time, the first with a markedly different lineup than the album that came before. Taking advantage of their wealth of non-album material, this week Criminally Slept-On takes a look at some of Cradle’s lesser-known and lesser-loved numbers.
1) “King of The Woods”
Hammer of The Witches featured two new guitarists delivering some of the band’s most punishing and melodic material since Dusk… And Her Embrace. The album’s first single, “Right Wing of The Garden Triptych,” was well-received enough to generate substantial buzz for Hammer, and Cradle’s managed to work a significant amount of material from the outing into their subsequent live shows. As is often the case, the special edition of the CD featured two bonus tracks. While both songs are terrific and hold up to scrutiny against the original track sequence’s best cuts, I went with “King of The Woods” for this one. Longtime drummer Marthus (officially a Cradle veteran after appearing on four full-lengths and an EP) lays out some of the most relentless drumming he’s yet delivered during his tenure in the band, and Filth and keyboardist/vocalist Lindsay Schoolcraft work in tandem to create some truly memorable chorus collaboration. Definitely worth checking out, especially for fans of the Dusk and Cruelty eras.
2) “Nightmares of an Ether Drinker”
The band’s 2012 release, The Manticore and Other Horrors, would prove to be longtime guitarist Paul Allender’s swansong with Cradle, and to his credit, it featured some of his most vital work to date. While everything since Thornography (the band’s all-time low point for me) got progressively stronger, Manticore felt the most fresh and rejuvenating. Most of Allender’s work since rejoining prior to Midian felt like him trying to emulate the style Cradle of Filth adopted after his original departure, before landmark releases Dusk and Cruelty. And while that approach delivered some standout work, Manticore (written largely by Allender, as he was the band’s sole guitarist at the time) had an edge the other albums lacked. “Nightmares of an Ether Drinker” features some of his thrashiest, punkiest riffs, crammed into the album’s signature short, intense song durations. It’s actually a bonus track, but if all you’ve ever heard is the special edition (which is all I’ve ever seen on a store shelf), you’d never know it wasn’t intended to be part of the album’s sequence all along.
3) “The Rape and Ruin of Angels (Hosannas in Extremis)” [Orchestral Version]
In 2012, Cradle finally got around to releasing Midnight in The Labyrinth, a collection of songs from their first few albums, reimagined entirely as orchestral pieces with occasional spoken-word narration. According to Filth, it was intended as homage to the work of some of the band’s favorite horror film score composers. While comparing these renditions to their originals is pretty much apples to oranges, there’s a lot to be said for when this kind of radical reinterpretation is actually captivating. Particularly rapturous is this version of “The Rape and Ruin of Angels,” the show-stopping finale of the V Empire EP. The orchestration is at once sharp and dreamy, lush and tender, and just as engaging as its counterpart.