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“Dusk… and Her Embrace”, the second official Cradle Of Filth album, was significant from moving the band out of its death/thrash metal roots, and squarely into symphonic – and gothic metal territory. Where the previous outing at least attempted to infuse its metal with a Hammer Horror atmosphere, “Dusk… and Her Embrace”, befitting of the Victorian-vampyric concept that its center, romantic above all else. Despite the album’s convincing visuals and superficialities “Dusk…and Her Embrace” has no lineage with, or connection to black metal. First and foremost it is an extreme metal album, one with links mostly in death -, thrash – and traditional metal styles.

“Dusk… and Her Embrace” is a loose concept album about vampyrism. The lyrics were inspired by the literature of Sheridan Le Fanu, in particular the “Carmilla” novel (which served as an inspiration to everybody from Jess Franco Manera to Ann Rice). The subtitle ‘Litanies of Damnation, Death and the Darkly Erotic’ concisely summarizes the lyrical content of the album. The lyrics retain part of the anti-Christian sentiment but the focus squarely lies on the erotica, vampirism and romance from this point forward. It was the recording debut of second guitarist John Piras (Gian Pyres) and the one but last record to feature vocal contributions from early backing singer Danielle Cneajna Cottington. "Dusk... and Her Embrace" was the last Cradle Of Filth album before Davey's overt usage of British humor and self-aware puns, linguistic and otherwise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4ZLzpVdF5g

One of the greatest improvements that the band experienced was the sheer flow of the material. “Dusk… and Her Embrace” breaks free from the conventional playing that characterized “The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh”. Here the super bass licks, played by Robin Eaglestone, follow the keyboards instead of doubling the guitars. Stuart Anstis, who debuted on the “V Empire” EP, infuses the band with a healthy amount of traditional metal riffing. Last but certainly not least had drummer Nick Barker come into his own, and “Dusk… and Her Embrace” is his finest moment with the band. Frontman Dani Davey wrote some of his most verbose lyrics while integrating a wide array of vocal styles, including his standard shrieks, grunts, whispers and narration.

‘Humana Inspired to Nightmare’ and ‘Malice Through the Looking Glass’ were written entirely by the new members. ‘Beauty Slept In Sodom’ was originaly called ‘Beauty Sleeps In Sodom’. ‘Funeral in Carpathia’ and ‘Haunted Shores’ are the only truly fast tracks of the album. ‘Heaven Torn Asunder’ is the most straight-up anti-religious whereas ‘Beauty Slept In Sodom’ is the Christian creation parable of Genesis set to prose of vampirism and erotica. ‘Haunted Shores’ is about the Arthurian legend, and functions as a tribute to their home country England. It includes guest narration by British legend Conrad Lant (Cronos) from UK proto-black metal institution Venom.

In an odd turn of events history seemed to repeat itself. As before external factors put the record in jeopardy, and Davey had to overcome legal and personnel hurdles in order to regain control over the authenticity of his product. The album had a troubled two-year production history with the formative work being laid down by previous guitarist duo Paul Allender and Ryan. The original version of “Dusk… and Her Embrace” was recorded in 1995 with most of the “Principle Of Evil Made Flesh” line-up. Ongoing legal proceedings with Cacophonous Records subsequently schismed the band in two opposing camps leaving the record in legal limbo. Paul and Benjamin Ryan along with Paul Allender meanwhile formed The Blood Divine.

As Davey’s half (consisting of himself, Nicholas Barker, and Robin Eaglestone) was embroided in said litigations it was decided to produce the “V Empire” EP as a means to wrangle the "Dusk... and Her Embrace" album recordings out of its existing, and yet to be fulfilled, contract with Cacophonous Records. After winning the court case against its former contractor the original recordings of “Dusk… and Her Embrace” were used by Davey’s part of the band as leverage to negotiate a new and hopefully better recording deal between them and interested labels. Chief among those involved in the bidding war surrounding Cradle Of Filth were British label imprints Earache Records and Music For Nations.

Upon inking a mutual satisfactory agreement with new label home Music For Nations the original “Dusk… and Her Embrace” recordings were relegated to the band vaults where they have remained ever since. As the new members put their spin on what the prior line-up had written the necessary preparations were made to re-record “Dusk… and Her Embrace” a second time. With part of the original content used in the quickly put together “V Empire” EP the band wrote new material to accomodate the remainder of the initially scheduled material. Once the deal with Music For Nations was in place the band re-recorded the freshly rewritten - and newly composed tracks in 1996.

During the second recording sessions a cover of Slayer classic ‘Hell Awaits’, a re-recording of the preceding EP’s ‘Nocturnal Supremacy’ and the instrumental ‘Carmilla’s Masque’ were laid down along with material intended for the album. These featured on the Japanese print of the album exclusively. The complete “Dusk… and Her Embrace” album session would thus include 14 tracks: 9 originals that appear on the final version of the record, plus the duo of ‘Queen Of Winter, Throned’ and ‘Nocturnal Supremacy’ (as they appeared on the preceding “V Empire” EP), along with the two instrumentals ‘She Mourns A Lenghtening Shadow’ and ‘Carmilla’s Masque’ along with the earlier mentioned Slayer cover ‘Hell Awaits’.

After two sessions at Academy Studios the band decided to change locations. “Dusk… and Her Embrace” was recorded at DEP International Studios in Birmingham with Kit Woolven (most famous for his work with Irish classic rock act Thin Lizzy) producing along with Mike Exeter and Dan Sprigg engineering. With a classic rock and pop producer behind the console the production changed accordingly. “Dusk… and Her Embrace” is blessed with a smooth, bassy production that is crystal clear but warm and organic sounding. The cover photography by Simon Marsden is stylistically similar to that of Nigel Wingrove of the preceding two records. The record contains shots of the succubi models Luna, Michelle, Rochelle, and Susie. The CD and LP use different shots for the dinner table band shot, with the model being topless for the vinyl edition.

It goes without saying that the originally intended incarnation of the album is radically different from what it would eventually become in its existing form. The current version of the album is far stronger, mostly due to a complete lack of filler material, than how the album was originally intended. Whether the original recordings of "Dusk... and Her Embrace" will ever see the light of day remains yet to be seen. The album sold in excess of 100,000 copies in Europe alone, and was extensively bootlegged on the East-European market with various labels releasing cassette versions of the album. The Polish 1997 print by Metal Mind Productions even includes the Japanese bonus tracks. It goes without saying that it is rightly a classic piece of European extreme metal, regardless of its troubled conception.

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A quaint curiosity in the early Cradle Of Filth catalog is what most truthfully describes “V Empire”. Confused and confusing it was a harbinger of things to come. Owning its existence as the result of a courtcase decided in the band’s favor, it was an unplanned release that was disowned by its creators shortly after release. This hastily put together ditty served as an omen for much of the band’s career from this point onward. It’s a jumbled mess assembled from various odds and ends, both old and new. Marred by re-recording of formative works and needless padding – it is indicative of the many faults and errors in judgment that would come to define the band’s prolific but wholly inconsistent and often checkered output.

“V Empire” was a hastily conceived EP in order to fulfill contractual obligations to its former label as the principal members were involved in legal proceedings and litigations behind the scenes. Put together from leftovers and quickly written new songs it is surprising that the EP sounds as coherent as it does, even if slightly so. Spawned by circumstance rather than careful planning it is the architectural template from which all later Cradle Of Filth EPs would draw influence in terms of structure, song format and overall pacing. As a transitional piece between the band’s earlier death/thrash metal oriented direction and the lush romantic symfo/gothic avenue they would explore to a fuller degree on the album to follow “V Empire” is at least mildly successfull in what it sets out to do.

Frontman Dani Davey along with rhythm section Robin Eaglestone (bass guitar) and Nicholas Barker (drums) remain from the previous album line-up. “V Empire” was the recording debut for new guitarist Stuart Anstis who recorded all the rhyhtm – and lead guitar parts for the EP. One of the stipulations in the Cacophonous Records agreement was that the release had to feature two guitarists in order to have some form of continuity with the debut. To maintain said illusion the Jared Demeter character was created until the band could hire a suitable second guitarist. Bryan Hipp (later of Florida death metal band Diabolic) was one of the most well-known musicians to bring the Jared Demeter character to life in the live arena. Newly acquired keyboardist Greg Moffitt (Damien Gregori) and backing singer Sarah Jane Ferridge (Sarah Jezebel Deva) are given their introduction. Previous vocalist Danielle Cneajna Cottington was relegated to additional vocals as Ferridge took centerstage, while the band ended its affiliation with studio singer and Satanic advisor Andrea Meyer for hitherto undisclosed reasons.

‘Ebony Dressed For Sunset’ obviously was meant as an atmospheric intro piece but was reworked, haphazardly at that, into the filmsiest excuse for a song. ‘The Forest Whispers My Name’ retains its basic structure but is reworked in parts, and the embellishments serve to prove how powerful the track was in its original form. Deva’s new vocal parts fail to enhance what Andrea Meyer had arranged previously – in fact they tend to add ballast and pompousness where none was needed, or called for.

‘Queen Of Winter, Throned’, which opens with a variation on the popular Curt Siodmak verse from the 1941 Universal horror classic “The Wolfman”, retakes both the melody and the vocal line from the preceding album’s ‘A Dream Of Wolves in the Snow’. A song that itself was put together from the strongest parts of ‘Spattered In Faeces’ from the earlier prematurely aborted “Goetia” sessions. The track’s conclusion introduces rather hokey sounding organs and plinking hapsicord melodies that are only saved by Jezebel Deva’s lush backing vocals. ‘Nocturnal Supremacy’ is a song dating back to the “The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh” days that gets a much overdue reworking here. The chord progressions and riff schematics have Allender/Ryan characteristics written all over them, while Anstis gets to add his flowing traditional metal melodies over what the earlier guitarists had crafted.

‘She Mourns A Lenghtening Shadow’ effectively foreshadows the heavily orchestrated gothic direction the band would take on the following album. That it stands out (for all the wrong reasons) proves that it was written and intended for the “Dusk… and Her Embrace” sessions instead of arriving prematurely on this slapdash EP, one blighted by lunkheaded conflicting creative decisions. ‘The Rape and Ruin Of Angels (Hossanas In Extremis)’ is a confused cut that starts with a blistering Norsecore section that would make Parland-era Dark Funeral proud only to progress into a “Principle” style bridge, all while having the symfo/gothic overtones that would come to define the following record. In fact after the strong opening the track loses steam the further it progresses as if the band had no idea where they intended to go with it.

The song material present on “V Empire” usually is both admirably strong and inexcuseably amateur often within the same song. Even though all songs flow seamlessly into another there is no stylistic cohesion between any of them. That exactly ‘The Forest Whispers My Name’ was re-recorded speaks volumes of the importance of the Allender-Ryan axis early in the band’s career as it appeared originally on the band’s demos. Given the inconsistent songwriting and incongruent pacing of this EP ‘Queen Of Winter, Throned’ is the sole highlight. As this EP was hastily thrown together it is surprising to even have this strong a track present.

As before the recordings were done at Academy Studios with Robert Magoolagan and Keith Appleton overseeing the production. Once again the album was mastered at The Exchange by Nilesh Patel. The production on “V Empire” is a lot clearer and crunchier on all fronts, but also loses part of the grittiness of the debut. The improved but unbalanced production reflects the haphazard nature of the EP. The cover - and inlay photography by British erotic photographer Nigel Wingrove is nothing short of amazing. The band’s lush erotica is in full bloom as the female form, often in various stages of undress, adorns the booklet. Every part of the record has lush shots from the usual Redemption divas Gabrielle, Luna, Scarlet, Vida, and headmistress Eileen Daly.

Historically the EP is interesting in that two of its most beloved tracks (‘Queen Of Winter, Throned’ and ‘Nocturnal Supremacy’) were initially meant to be part of the band’s second album “Dusk… and Her Embrace”. Likewise does the instrumental ‘She Mourns A Lenghtening Shadow’ feel more at home at that album than any release prior or after. The production notes indicate recordings in 1995 and 1996 giving credence to the idea that both cuts were culled from the original (and subsequently buried) “Dusk… and Her Embrace” recordings, while the remainder of the EP was written to accomodate. “V Empire” was the last Cradle Of Filth effort for Cacophonous Records before they moved on to bigger opportunities.