In a time where ongoing lockdowns have precluded the presence of a live audience, theatricality is a band’s best friend when adapting to the live stream medium, and few artists could hope to have mastered the art of merging metal with the musical theater setting as completely as the U.K.’s own Cradle Of Filth. Having adopted a similar sonic aesthetic to the visually-oriented style of symphonic black metal that has birthed such outfits as Emperor and Dimmu Borgir, and incorporated a mode of lyrical storytelling that parallels the horror-themed material associated with King Diamond’s work following the first run of Mercyful Fate, one might be tempted to dub the typical concert experience featuring said band as Dani Filth’s dinner theater of horrors, given the highly prominent and intricate character put forth by said front man. Nevertheless, as with all highly ambitious undertakings, the visual and musical extravaganza that took place at St Mary’s Art Center on May 12th of this year was very much a collective effort.
Set to a bleak backdrop of a large stage cloaked in darkness, illuminated by a few torches and a movie screen at the rear projecting cloudy skies and the emblem of a red dragon, the dreary tones of an instrumental overture opens the show like the Sword of Damocles looming over every onlooker’s head. The prelude to the coming attraction being the dense, keyboard driven theme that opened the band’s highly consequential fourth studio LP “Midian,” it was made fairly clear that the upcoming show would tend towards the familiar, at least insofar as the average follower of this filthy flock was concerned. Dani Filth himself would signal the invocation of this blackened rollercoaster ride by approaching center stage with a torch in hand, illuminating himself and the rest of the sextet, all clad in an array of black monochromatic outfits and donning inhuman facial expressions as they launched into the hyper-thrashing madness of “Cthulhu Dawn”, another offering from the aforementioned “Midian” album, and arguably the most logical choice of an opener given its frenzied and riff-happy demeanor.
Despite beginning things on a fairly typical note with a favorite from this outfit’s early 2000s heyday, the overall event was an extremely thorough representation of Cradle Of Filth’s entire career, each song being faithfully realized by a flock of musicians that are fairly new to the twisted family. Drummer Marthus, the second eldest statesman after Dani himself in the group, provided a thunderous and machine-like precision to the arrangement through each jarring shift in tempo from warp speed to a graveyard crawl, while fellow rhythm section hand and bassist Daniel Firth managed to keep pace with the lightning speed of the guitars while also occasionally taking the reins at a few pivotal points. The twin guitar assault of Ashok and Rich Shaw was a flawless exercise in synchronicity, shifting seamlessly through punchy death/thrashing riffs and blinding melodic tremolo passages that often blurred the lines between the old Norwegian blackened sound and the Gothenburg one, to speak nothing for the occasional dueling solo passages that rested somewhere between a King vs. Hanneman battle and a Tipton vs. Downing exchange.
Curiously enough, the most exemplary performance by an individual contributor to this gothic-infused wall of sound was provided by rank newcomer, keyboardist and support vocalist Anabelle Iratni. As the feminine foil to Dani’s raw, maddened warlock meets Dracula vocal persona, she provided a powerful and distinct blend of operatic and narrated passages at key points of every individual song, along with a highly polished keyboard performance that gave an otherwise bleak and morose metallic assault a sense of melancholy beauty and depth. Selecting a singular zenith point to her overall performance proved quite difficult, but between the amazing rendition of the signature melodic croon accompanying “Mannequin” off the mid-2000s symphonic masterwork “Damnation And A Day” and the slightly more dramatic interpretation of Liv Kristine’s parts on “Nymphetamine”, it becomes more than clear that she was more than capable of filling the impressive shoes of her many predecessors in this role.
Though the selection of songs from Cradle’s extensive 30 year career would often hop back and forth between eras at a seemingly random succession, the resulting ebb and flow of blazing speed and haunting atmospheres proved to be a well organized progression. The newer material such as the hook-driven yet nasty anthem “Blackest Magick In Practice” and the blast-happy blackened blazer “Lilith Immaculate” shared an uncanny stylistic sense of unity with the older material, with the former showcasing one of the more technically charged guitar exchanges between Ashok and Shaw, mirroring the ones this band tended to dabble in during their early days as showcased on the orthodoxy black metal romp “The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh”, which also sees a riveting rendition later in the performance. About the only thing lacking from the total package was a roaring crowd to project the adulation that was no doubt being sent the band’s way across the internet when fan favorites such as “Her Ghost In The Fog” and “From The Cradle To Enslave” were recreated in a manner almost indistinct from their original studio versions.
In essence, this was an event marked by a flair for the dramatics and an eye for consistency, and the continual question of how Dani Filth can produce those ear-piercing wolfish shrieks for over an hour and still possess a speaking voice afterward. Despite being a tad out of their element with no crowd to directly interact with, Dani would take a few occasions to interact directly with the virtual onlookers in a gravely, Dracula-like growl to give the appearance of not truly breaking the fourth wall. It goes without saying that any existing fan of the band, young or old, was witness to a band that is still at the top of their game after 30 years despite having about as many lineup changes, while any newcomer would discover a medley of sonic wonders blurring the lines between early 90s extreme metal and 19th century Romanticism that might be all too overwhelming and shocking to handle. And given that this stream will still be available until May 26th, it would behoove those that have been sleeping in their coffins to take to their computers and show their support for this weaver of wicked tales and his troupe of virtuosos.
CRADLE OF FILTH Setlist:
At the Gates of Midian (Played over PA) / Cthulhu Dawn / Blackest Magick in Practice / Lilith Immaculate / Nymphetamine (Fix) / The Principle of Evil Made Flesh / Honey and Sulphur / Heartbreak and Seance / Mannequin / Malice Through the Looking Glass / Creatures That Kissed In Cold Mirrors / Her Ghost in the Fog / Saffron’s Curse / The Twisted Nails of Faith / Born in a Burial Gown / From the Cradle to Enslave