With 1994's The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, Cradle of Filth put England on the map in a black-metal scene that was glutted by blasphemous, misanthropic Norwegians, including Mayhem, Emperor and Immortal. But it was Cradle's theatrical third album, 1998's Cruelty and the Beast, that showcased the band's hybrid of brutality and macabre romanticism, and still stands as a beacon of extreme music.
"We wanted to make it sound like it wasn't just six musicians playing with backing musicians here and there," frontman Dani Filth told The Virus Mix music video show. "We want to give it a soundtrack quality – music for the Armageddon."
To that end, Filth raised the narrative bar, crafting a concept album based on the life of Hungarian Countess and mass murderer Elizabeth Bathory. And the band followed his creative vision, crafting an album that was both bombastic and grandiose, inflected with gothic touches, yet unquestionably rooted in black metal. Vocal choirs and synthesized strings blended with the blast beats and the walls of riffage and guitar hooks, complementing the presentation. Filth's vocals ranged from low and guttural to shrill and piercing, cementing his iconoclastic style. In addition to the feral bludgeoning and the slower, more melodic keyboard passages, Cruelty and the Beast featured three haunting, elegiac instrumentals filled with chiming organs, horrified screams and synthesized orchestra parts that enhanced the drama and split the presentation into three acts.
Those who follow Cradle of Filth likely know that Cruelty and the Beast introduced the band to North America and brought the group across the pond for the first time. The album was such a milestone release for the group that Filth hired producer Scott Atkins, who has worked with them since 2008, to remix it for a special 20th anniversary of edition. Filth refers to the project as "an anatomical remix, not a remaster," and tinkered with Atkins at Grindstone Studios in Suffolk, England. The reissue is tentatively scheduled for release this fall. "Cruelty was such a game changer for us and having been in the studio with my hand on a couple of tracks alongside a producer, it just sounds so much better," he told Punktastic.com. "It's going to be great because it's an amazing album, but the drum sound sucked and everything had to be built on top of that!"
In our own commemoration of the album's release, here are 10 facts about Cradle of Filth's era of Cruelty you might not know.
1. Dani Filth was fascinated by vampirism from an early age
Filth was already fascinated by the story of Elizabeth Bathory for years when he decided to create a full concept story about the blood countess. He has read numerous accounts of her barbaric exploits in an effort to separate fact from fiction and even called her "my heroine" in one interview. "I have pictures of her all through my house," he told Metal Rules in 1999. While Filth realized that the depraved serial killer probably didn't really bathe in or drink the blood of her victims to maintain her youthful appearance, he was fascinated with the way the legend developed and how it tied in with his interest in vampirism. "[My] first interest began in vampirism at a young age," he told The Virus Mix. "I was being attracted by what was called Hammer horror — BBC broadcasts of the late Sixties, early Seventies. And I suppose it was studying at school, choosing to do 19th century literature that we first discovered the vampire trait in books. Vampirism was a big topic at that point obviously because of the strained morality of Victorian society. Vampirism, obviously, can be linked to dream factions of lust and spiritual rape, menstruation, that kind of thing. And when we talk about the concept of vampirism we don't mean the two-fanged nocturnal film character, but more people who have experimented with it for sexual kicks."
2. Cradle of Filth were accused of burning down a church
Around the time that members of the so-called Inner Circle were burning down churches in Norway, Cradle of Filth were investigated by police for attempting to burn down an ancient English church. "Some guy down the road in Colchester [did it] and we got blamed for it," Filth told Metal Hammer. "Obviously [church burning] was ridiculous. I have been friends with every single person from that scene since, and I can't remember anyone that's said, 'Yeah that was really great'. Everyone said, 'We were idiots, we were kids.' My friend lives a stone's throw from the first church that was burned in Bergen, and he knows it's an idiot thing." Looking back, Filth admitted that if he had been in an environment where his peers were torching churches to make a statement he might have gotten involved. "I'm so happy that I didn't get caught up in that whole thing," he said. "Imagine waking up thinking, 'Oh god, I've just burned down a church, I'm going to prison for 25 years, I'm an idiot.'"
3. There was no Dani Filth before Cruelty and the Beast
The Cradle of Filth frontman went by his birth name Daniel Lloyd Davey until he decided he needed a pseudonym that was as striking as the band's first concept record. "I've no idea why [I did it] — probably because my surname's shit," he told Metal Hammer. "Perhaps I was following Axl Rose. It's not that great when Nuclear Blast book you into hotels under Mr. Filth, and you get your passport out, and they say no — which I've done a million times. I have to go online and show them a picture to prove I'm me."
4. The title of the album references both Friedrich Nietzsche and the Walt Disney-adapted fairy tale
Once Filth decided to write about the myth of Countess Bathory (she of the titular Venom classic), he strived to pen his pretty much unintelligible lyrics in the style of classic poets, including Lord Byron and 16th century artists he studied in college, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Milton. Then, he had to pick a title for the record, so he alluded to German existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche and American entertainer Walt Disney. "I think the original Nietzsche quote was, 'There is no beauty without cruelty,'" Filth said. "Calling it Cruelty and the Beast was trying to make it like a dark fairy tale. It is very closely aligned with Beauty and the Beast."
5. The vibe for Cruelty was inspired by paranormal experiences in an ancient witch county
While Cradle of Filth worked on Cruelty and the Beast, Filth and his fiancée lived in an old house in Hadley, England, a town invaded in the 1600s by Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, who tracked down, prosecuted and executed innocent women. Filth said the spirits that haunted the area moved him. "It has a certain atmosphere to it and it has an influence on me," he told Virus Mix. "There's a load of weird shit that goes down there. I've seen things or people or shapes or felt things in our house regularly when they visited. Me and my fiancée have a lot of cats and collectively they'll just go completely apeshit for no particular reason and always in the same spot."
6. Cradle of Filth nearly performed an opera with Elizabeth Bathory's last remaining relative
Before Cradle of Filth released Cruelty and the Beast they contacted the last living descendant of the Blood Countess, an American named Dennis Bathory-Kitsz. He, too, is a composer fascinated by Elizabeth Bathory — so much so that he has spent 20 years writing the opera Erzebet about his distant relative. The musicians discussed collaborating for a performance that could have taken place at one of Elizabeth Bathory's old castles, now located in the Czech Republic. "It was all going smoothly," Filth told Punktastic.com. "But we would have [had] to go to a very small village and it would have [had] to be very carefully organized with various commissions due to structural damage and building stages, etc."
7, Filth did not use distortion on his vocals
When he tracked the songs for Cruelty and the Beast, Filth used a little bit of reverb, but no other effects, yet was able to create two distinct sinister-sounding voices on the record — including a high-pitched squeak that some listeners have likened to an "evil chipmunk." Doing so without studio trickery required him to push himself to the extreme. "Extreme music demands an extreme approach," he told Metal Rules. "There are a lot of places where it is quite gothic, as in gothic music, but there are a lot of different styles and you have to convey that anger. We have to convey that passion and it is meant to sound otherworldly."
8. The band hired a minor celebrity to play the voice of Bathory
The spoken word passages in songs such as "Bathory Aria" were performed by Polish-born actress Ingrid Pitt, who played The Countess in the 1970 Hammer Horror film, Countess Dracula and starred in various other Hammer productions. "We approached her because we're big fans of the Hammer Horror genre," Filth said in The Gospel of Filth. "When she came, she stayed far beyond what she was paid to do, so she evidently enjoyed herself." The band credited Pitt on the album as "The glamour from Hammer" and Pitt posed for countless photos with the members of the band. Pitt said in The Gospel of Filth that she tried to get inside the mind of her character. "She just had a need to hurt people and the spilling of their blood was just a symbol of that perversion," she said. Pitt died in 2010 at the age of 73.
9. The cover art photographer forgot to shoot the main image
For the Cruelty and the Beast artwork, Cradle of Filth hired photographer Stu Williamson to shoot nightclub owner and model Louisa Morando, who had previously danced for the band live. The session went well and Williamson captured the raven-haired beauty looking particularly creepy. Afterward, Filth spoke with the photographer over the phone. "I asked him how the bloodbath shot had turned out," Filth said. "Rather embarrassingly, he admitted that he had forgotten to photograph said scene despite it being the most obvious affiliation with Lady Bathory. And so, he had to recall Louisa from the train back to London to hastily shoot the image before deadline." The resulting shot of Morando sitting in a blood-filled tub, arms outstretched, knees drawn into her chest, was worth the effort and remains one of the band's most iconic cover images.
10. Cradle of Filth weren't happy with the sound of the finished record
Originally, Mike Exeter (Judas Priest, Heaven & Hell) was hired to produce Cruelty and the Beast. However, when he suffered a family tragedy the band's label got nervous and hired Jan Peter Genkel (Therion, Darkseed) to co-produce. The results failed to live up the performers' expectations. "[The production is] absolute rubbish," guest vocalist Sarah Jezebel Deva wrote on the band's message board. "I remember when I first heard it — Dani played it — I walked out with tears in my eyes. I had spent 25 hours working in the studio on that album and it sounded like I had my head in a toilet ... most of my vocals you couldn't hear." Exeter said Genkel was a "nice chap" but that Cradle hadn't wanted to work with two producers. "We were successfully battling the second album 'blues' issue and trying to make the best album we could," Exeter wrote on his blog. "The annoyance was the record company bringing on a producer with a 'name' (at the time anyway) to co-produce with me — something the band were uncomfortable with pretty much all the way through. A great example of a record company not making the best decision by the band.'"