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The “Live & Plugged” franchise was a shortlived home video series wherein German metal conglomerate Nuclear Blast Records sought to promote upcoming new signees through concert recordings and candid interviews. The series spawned a  total of two installments, and was discontinued upon the advent of DVDs as the popular storage format. The first installment included recordings of Darkseed, In Flames and Evereve on the German club circuit, whereas the second part coupled live recordings of Norwegian band Dimmu Borgir, and Swedish death/thrash metal titans Dissection as part of the shortlived “Gods Of Darkness” festival.

Recorded during the Gods Of Darkness Festival at Live Music Hall in Köln, Germany as part of “The Rape and Ruin of Europe” tour in 1997 supporting Cradle Of Filth, and co-headliners Dissection. Dimmu Borgir was the opening band for the tour, as In Flames at that point had a more established reputation as a melodic death metal band. Promising an “in-depth” look at each of the bands the video includes a professionally filmed live set, interviews, and each of the band’s official music videos. While the package at least delivers what it says on the tin, it is riddled with errors, major and minor, from front to back. The live portion of the package is the least problematic – the interview segments don’t offer up any new information that couldn’t be found through alternative means even back when this was released. The “Live & Plugged” video opens with Norwegian band Dimmu Borgir, and is followed by Swedish death/thrash metal outfit Dissection.

Even though Dimmu Borgir was lower on the bill than its Swedish peers Dissection, the Norwegians get to open the video on the strength of its divisive third album “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”, its first for the label. The first notable error is that the highlight opening reel plays to “The Darkest Day” by composer David Arnold from the “Independence Day” movie soundtrack instead of a studio outtake of the band’s own songs. The opening segment sets the tone for the remainder of the home video. Being that Dimmu Borgir was at this point still a support act there are barely any lights during the show, and for the majority of its set the stage is underlit to say the least. Shagrath was still uncomfortable in the frontman position, and this leads to amateurish in-between song banter. The set itself is a representative cross-section of the band’s material up to that point, even though it curiously omits its earliest releases, specifically the meandering “For All Tid” and its lukewarm companion EP “Inn I Evighetens Morke”.

In the setlist only ‘Dodsferd’ and ‘Alt Lys Er Svunnet Hen’ represent the band’s pre-Nuclear Blast catalog. Understandably the set focuses heavily on the lamentable “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”. “For All Tid” is ignored altogether. Only ‘Raabjorn Speiler Draugheimers Skodde’ appears in its re-recorded form during the end credits. Each of the members is enthusiastic and energetic, although drummer Tjodalv sometimes struggles to keep up during the transitions in new songs. During the many keyboard solos, the top-hatted Stian Aarstad can be regularly seen staring blankly into space. The interview hardly justifies its inclusion as it offers up nothing novel (even this early in the band’s career), and its needlessly breaks up the flow of the live set. Stian Aarstad and Tjodalv don’t appear in the interview segments at all, and Shagrath only appears sparsely. Not a lot of care was put into this part of the video, as at one point Nagash is missspelled as ‘Naqash’ during the interview segments. Dimmu Borgir’s part of the video is concluded by the promo video for ‘Mourning Palace’ which mixes live footage of the concert the viewer just saw with stock war footage.

During the Dissection part ‘At the Fathomless Depths’ is played over the opening credits, why another David Arnold composition from the “Independence Day” soundtrack wasn’t used here is anybody’s guess. Tobias Kjellgren substituted for Ole Öhman on drums for the “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” touring campaign. The band plays a representative selection of its two albums, but also includes ‘Elisabeth Bathory’, a cover of Hungarian black/thrashers Tormentor – and ‘Son Of the Mourning’, an old demo song that never appeared on any of its official albums, as part of its set. The band deliver an energetic set with enlived performances from each of the members. bass guitarist Peter Palmdahl, and substitute drummer Tobias Kjellgren are subjects for the interview instead of Jon Nödtveidt, the actual frontman, lyricist and creative force behind Dissection. In fact Jon Nödtveidt, and Johan Norman don’t appear in the interview segments at all. The Dissection part of the home video is concluded by the promo video for ‘Where Dead Angels Lie’, which on the backsleeve of the video is misspells as ‘Where Dead Angles Lie’.

On all fronts the Dissection segment of the live recording is the superior shot of the two productions. Given the band’s bigger profile at the time (the band co-headlined with British dark metallers Cradle Of Filth, with support coming from Swedish then-melodic death metal band In Flames and Dimmu Borgir) it is not entirely unexpected that they were given a better stage sound and lightshow. Likewise does Dissection receive better filming and editing. Most members share equal screentime, only rhythm guitarist Johan Norman is often ignored in favor for lead guitarist Jon Nödtveidt. It’s apparent that Dissection on all fronts was a better-oiled machine and a tightly-knit unit compared to Dimmu Borgir’s semi-amateuristic showing on the same festival.

In all it was understandable that Nuclear Blast decided to scrap the “Live & Plugged” series at the dawn of the DVD format. Its contents and the dubious quality of the interviews did not justify the existence of the franchise. For what it attempted to accomplish “Live & Plugged” was functional at the very least. It was a budget line alternative to dedicated, single-band live recordings that offered a bit of everything for the casual fan. In light of the advent of widely-spread live recordings it was virtually inevitable that “Live & Plugged” was bound to become redundant, which it did. With the live aspect as its primary selling point the video has nothing resembling worthwhile additional footage. “Live & Plugged” was good for what it intended, but ultimately the brand didn’t proof resilient and strong enough to warrant further revisits.

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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.