ANTI-CHRIST POSE: Cradle of Filth Would Rather Burn Up The Charts Than Burn Down The Churches

Music Features
ANTI-CHRIST POSE: Cradle of Filth Would Rather Burn Up The Charts Than Burn Down The Churches
Mar 25, 2003, 02:17

Throughout its 11-year existence, Cradle of Filth has often been decried as the reigning posers of Black Metal—which seems pretty ridiculous coming from a music scene with a penchant for posturing in ghastly corpse-paint make-up, writing songs about ancient folklore and crafting fugue-style Baroque metal. Sounds like the pot calling the kettle, um, black.

Sure, “true” Black Metal is birthed of a violent Norwegian coterie, and “true” Black Metal (i.e. Burzum, Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, etc.) is usually more realistically sinister and intense. But, Cradle of Filth—like nearly all British rock musicians adapting foreign styles—has refined the music's elements and accentuated its theatrics into something palpable and uniquely its own. Cradle of Filth's version of Black Metal is comparable to David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust adaptation of Jim Osterberg's Iggy Pop—a cartoonish rendering, but somehow redeeming on its own merit. CoF isn't heathen metal—it's powerful camp.

Regardless, CoF soldiers on, gaining popularity with each album, headlining the second stage at Ozzfest 2003 and quickly bringing its pompous anthems into the mainstream. Its Sony Music debut Damnation and a Day was recorded partially in backwoods England and completed in Budapest, Hungary with a 40-piece orchestra and 32-person choir bringing decorum to the debauched proceedings. Meanwhile, the band strove to adopt the drop-tuned guttural grunt of its metal contemporaries into its slick gothic leitmotif portraying an epic musical apocalypse. No matter how mainstream it becomes, Cradle of Filth retains its delightfully campy horror feel (picking up where the Misfits left off) while writing bludgeoning, erudite anthems layered with Wagnerian melody.

For many, the band's apex was the epic 1999 album Cruelty and the Beast, after which awe-inspiring drummer Nicholas Barker left to join Dimmu Borgir and nearly every member quit except original bassist Robin Graves and vocalist Dani Filth. In the years following that mutiny, Dani fought to restructure the band, going through countless lineup changes—drummers, keyboardists, guitarists… including Robin's replacement by bassist Dave Pybus in 2001. Now that the band seems to have reached a stable lineup and jumped to a major label, CoF felt compelled to change its sound somewhat for the new album.

P. Nongrata of Your Flesh spoke to bassist Dave Pybus (the second longest-term member of the band, after founder Dani) shortly before the album's release to find out what the band had in store.

YF: Tell us a bit about the new record. It seems to have reached an apex of lush orchestration, while simultaneously de-emphasizing a lot of the harmonies and over-the-top stuff. Was that intentional?

DP: I think so, yeah. We wanted to get more into the guitars. Cradle was really fucking heavy, even when doing the goth stuff. But because of the production, it didn't come across right. I'm not slagging off the old albums—they're excellent. But this time around, the money constraints weren't a problem and the music scene right now demands heavier stuff. It's kind of sad, in this day and age, that Cradle of Filth may be not as heavy as a band like Linkin Park—because of production values. I know it sounds a bit weird, but their album's so over-produced, that it just blows you away. They're not just a pop band, but they're on the pop charts. So, we've had to update ourselves a bit. We're very aware of what's going on around us. (Damnation and a Day) is a brutal album, and a lot more mature.

The integration of real strings and a choir is really impressive when compared to the earlier recordings. On the earlier albums the interludes and synth stuff sounded good, but you could definitely tell that it wasn't a big-budget operation.

DP: That was one of the things people seemed worried about when we signed to Sony; are you gonna sell out and blah, blah… It just made us make a bigger Cradle of Filth album, not a worse one. That kind of ambition, to have an orchestra play on your album is excellent. I think anybody might want to do that at some point, and to be able to go to Hungary and achieve that was a mind-blowing experience. And, to come back and hear the tapes, fuck… it just blew us away. We can't wait to do the next Hellraiser soundtrack. [laughs]


DP: No, not literally. But technically, we could.

There was some concern about the major label debut and CoF trying to stay in touch with nu-metal. But the band always seems to be more about forging its own scene. Just in the past five years it seems your style of heavy, orchestral sound has really become more predominant in metal music…

DP: I think that's the question that comes across when people ask us about Black Metal. We're getting exposure in a lot of mainstream outlets like MTV and big ABC stations in America. To them, they don't really understand Black Metal. But for us, in the early days, Black Metal was something Cradle of Filth wanted to be involved with but always got shunned for, for being English, maybe being too professional, too good sounding. And, now, we're being pushed as the foremost Black Metal band that's pushing the boundaries of extreme music. At the end of the day, we don't want anything to do with Black Metal. We see it as more of an atmosphere that you create, not a musical style. We're obviously not going to do an album that's just shrill guitars and no drums. It's just limiting. So, in a way, we want to be Cradle of Filth, not what people want us to be. We're just an extreme fucking metal band.

Is that push to call you the forerunners of Black Metal something the media are doing, or something Sony is doing, or otherwise?

DP: No, Sony just wanted an extreme band and that's what they got. They're more interested in sales, and what comes of it will reflect if Black Metal's grown or shrunken, or whatever. Our ambition to get on a musical level like that is to fucking piss off as many people as possible, while also collecting as many fans as possible. Doing Ozzfest is an excellent opportunity for us to direct our music to people who might not be particularly happy with what Marilyn Manson is doing these days. He's not extreme enough. He claims to be extreme, but all he does is wear women's underwear and messy make-up and scream about Jesus. There's a bit more to us than that.

I don't think Metallica is going to do anything particularly special this year… again. Years ago, they were very technical and lyrically involved, and now they just seem like an extremely lazy rock band. Maybe they work very hard, but it doesn't come across in their music. Maybe they're more interested in playing blues or something, I don't know.

To be honest, there's a gap in the market, that we could—not intentionally enter—but it seems like maybe people are ready for this. We've been around long enough to fucking do it. We might explode and we might not. They might be too scared of us. [laughs]

It's interesting that Cradle of Filth isn't overtly using shock tactics, but there's something about the band that offends people in such an interesting way. Particularly the British press—NME, Kerrang, etc. There's always such hostility written about CoF over essentially, nothing.

DP: Obviously, we love a bit of excitement surrounding an album. A lot of that is our look. There's already people in certain states worried about Cradle of Filth being on Ozzfest; certain people saying “this band is a bunch of Satanists and blah, blah, blah…” If these people are going to create a controversy for us, we never asked for it. We're not like that at all. Same thing as Ozzy—he doesn't eat bats, he never did. [He did once bite the head off a dove, however! —ed.] It's silly, because it's just going to get people to come and see us. We just have to play the game in the states. It's all meat 'n' potatoes. We just need to break it down a bit for them. Not that people here are stupid, it's just such a huge place. In Europe, you can tour it all in three weeks. In the states, you've got to simplify it so you can travel further. If it's a bit too complicated and weird, it'll just go over everyone's heads. This album's pretty long and contrived, but you can listen to one song and take it as one song. You don't have to get into the concept of the whole album if you don't want… but it's there if you want it.

That was something I wanted to ask about. Cruelty and the Beast was really an incredible work that tied everything in together to one story. And, I know that Dani has tried to simplify that over time, but still keep the albums cohesive. This album—I don't have the lyrics, so I'm not exactly sure whether they're integrated or not…

DP: It's more of a biblical feel. Which will probably appeal to more people, because Countess Bathory [the historic blood-bathing, cannibalistic subject of the Cruelty and the Beast album –ed.] is just about one person, whereas the Bible transcends people's lives and stories. People can maybe relate to Lucifer being a rebel, being free-thinking. The album is about a Luciferian character. It never names him, but it's all about his fall from grace, coming to earth and corrupting mankind and his subsequent destruction. I think people can relate to that concept more. It's not like a German metal band's concept album about swords and dragons; that sort of thing.

Dani does a great job writing very complex lyrics that tell a story without making them pointlessly verbose. They make sense as lyrics should, but are certainly more erudite than most rock songs. It's always amazing how he can fit so many words into his phrasing and still sing them!

DP: [laughs] He never stops fucking talking, that's why! “Dan, shut up for a minute, will ya?” I think there's part of this album where he does shut up and it's good. He doesn't scream as much, so it has a harder edge. It's more brutal. We've been brought up-to-date and brutality is whatever you make it. It could be Death Metal, Grind, Punk, whatever people see us fit… we've got a bit of everything on this album. We're very aware of what we're doing. We're like a punk band at heart. Except we can play our guitars. [laughs]

Kind of like what the Damned were doing at one point—being able to play well, while still making energetic music. It's a tough balance to find.

DP: Yeah, definitely. It's got to have an appeal and an image to sort of push it in a certain direction. A lot of people say, “oh, you're just an image band, you use women's tits to sell records, you just swear a lot and slag off Jesus…” All that shit hasn't written this album. Musicians have. You know what I mean? The “Jesus is a Cunt” t-shirt didn't do anything other than upset a lot of idiots. That was just us being us, not the music.

It does seem like it's been stripped down a bit. There are fewer harmonized guitar parts, fewer slower interludes… And, the one thing, like you were saying that Dani's not screaming as much anymore. That was one of the most tell-tale sounds of Cradle of Filth—the call-and-response vocals overlapping each other between him screaming one line, then a lower voice, then jumping to a high voice… just leaping all over his range. You're trying to reign that in a bit?

DP: It's something that came up when we started writing the album. We said, “Dan, if we're going to have some sort of appeal, then you can't go screaming all over this shit.” And, then… he did. [laughs] But, you know what I mean. It's got to be more up-to-date. That old stuff that we did, it's hugely popular.  There's a lot of people out there who like that, who want it to be the sickest thing. Some people might not like the concept of this album. We're not as musically extreme as Nile. There's bands out there like Regurgitated that put us to shame in that sense of brutality. But, we're not trying to be like that… we're trying to just be ourselves. And, if we can get on the charts and on the radio and upset some people, it's all the better, I think.

I never thought of Cradle of Filth as going out of their way to be incredibly extreme, but rather, as you said, creating an atmosphere. Which is very difficult for bands to do effectively, and I think that is the group's success.

DP: We spent an awful lot of money just trying to create an atmosphere. A lot of bands just go in to record the guitars. We actually went to a studio that was in the middle of nowhere in the woods near an ancient battlefield, where 1066 was fought the last time England was invaded. It's an extremely moving place to be, and that comes across. The choices of the studio… we could've come to Manhattan and done it. But, that's not what we're trying to do. You've got to stick by your convictions and try to pull it off. We could make it easy and record in the city. But, at the end of the day, we might end up singing about trucks and cars or whatever.

You want to be in the right frame of mind to be Cradle of Filth.

DP: Yeah, exactly. I think it's why sci-fi and horror films fail these days. There's nothing scary about seeing a computer-generated monster. Years ago, you never even saw the monster, and those films are all imbedded in people's minds as the scariest things ever.

Sure, like the cheesy Hammer horror films, being suggestive and just having a campy element to it will make it resonate in your mind. There's more fantasy involved.

DP: Even—I'm not a big fan of The Blair Witch Project—but in a way, it's a classic horror film. The girl screams and you never see the monster. It's what's in your own mind that's scariest of all. You know what I mean? It's all about the atmosphere. If we can get that imbedded in your album, that's half the battle.

Did you use drop-tunings on the album?

DP: Yeah, we normally tune to D and then drop tune the bottom string another two notes. That gives it a broader bandwidth and makes the orchestra stand out above and the guitars stand out below. It gives it a meaty sound. Like I say, we're aware of what's going on around us. We're not tackling these bands head-on, like Slipknot or Limp Bizkit, because face it, they're all heavier than us. And, we don't want a shrill, Black Metal album, we want to be fucking heavy. Some of the elements are quite brutal and Death Metal, some are gothy and majestic… there's a lot on there.

Has this “updating” the sound had a lot to do with the frequent lineup changes over the years?

DP: Maybe, very slightly. It's more to do with production values, easier to record ideas. It's not random writing in the studio any more. We're actually planning stuff a bit better. This album's probably been through three demos before we went and recorded it. Obviously having the budget to make this record has changed it from the sound of the older albums.

What do you think of being portrayed as a dark, sinister evil band?

DP: We like it, because we are. Quintessentially, it's like saying Stephen King isn't a horror writer. He is. You know when you pick up a Stephen King novel it's going to have some kind of thrill. And, that's what Cradle of Filth are—we never shy away from that. But, I think sometimes people get too caught up in it—asking us if we drink blood, are we vampires, do we eat babies for breakfast? I mean, come on… of course we do. [laughs]

[laughs] People really savor that stuff.

DP: So do we. At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is make every day Halloween. We love atmosphere, we love autumn, and that scary Hammer horror feel. It's a bit like the Misfits, that was their appeal for me. They're singing songs about chopping girls' heads off—I love that sort of thing. I like horror films, horror stories… it's just the way we are. It's that natural progression thing, that people want things to be more extreme all the time. You're not going to see a film that was scary and then the next one's not scary. You're just going to ignore it. People think that Marilyn Manson's extreme… but he's not, at all.

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