CRADLE OF FILTH — Dusk and Her Embrace (review)

CRADLE OF FILTH — Dusk and Her Embrace album cover Album · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Released in 1996, Dusk … and Her Embrace is an album that had an enormous impact on the impressionable psyche of the then-16 year old me. Having largely ignored most of the Scandinavian black metal scene at that time, Dusk was one of the heaviest, most extreme and exciting things that I had ever listened to back then. The combination of furious aggression, profanity, sensual gothic undertones, and dark, sinister atmosphere was simply impossible to resist and I found myself literally obsessing over this album, which I must have listened to hundreds of times in those years. Fast forward 25 years, and here I am, still enjoying Dusk … and Her Embrace almost as much as I did back in 1996. This is not something that happens to me with every album that I used to adore back in my teens. Some of those records turn out fairly disappointing when I listen to them today with my 41 year old ears. But Dusk’s enjoyment has not at all diminished with time, and I like to believe that this is because the record truly possesses the rare qualities of a timeless classic.

The album has a curious backstory. Most of its material (except the opener instrumental Humana Inspired to Nightmare and Malice Through the Looking Glass) was initially recorded by the same line-up that had written Cradle of Filth’s debut album The Principle of Evil Made Flesh. That line-up, however, split in two in the midst of the album’s recordings: Paul Allender (guitar), Benjamin Ryan (keyboards) and Paul Ryan (guitar) left the band to form The Blood Divine, while Nicholas Barker (drums), Robin Graves (bass) and Dani Filth (vocals) continued under the Cradle of Filth’s banner. The original recordings of Dusk were therefore scrapped (they will see the light of day only in 2016 when the band will release them as Dusk and Her Embrace - The Original Sin), as the band took time to regroup and change recording label (from Cacophonous to Music For Nations). Cradle of Filth eventually found the right substitutes in guitarist Stuart Anstis and keyboard player Damien Gregori and the 5-pieced Cradle of Filth headed to D.E.P. International Studios in Birmingham to re-arrange and re-record the tracks of Dusk … and Her Embrace (Gian Pyres is listed in the CD booklet as second guitarist, but apparently all guitar parts were actually recorded by Anstis).

The record is superbly balanced between black metal fury and gothic romance, aggression and atmosphere, melody and speed. Each single track is meticulously structured to give equal emphasis to the two sides of the band’s sound. Songs that start slow suddenly change gear and plunge into accelerations of uncompromising ferocity (“”Heaven Torn Asunder”, “A Gothic Romance”). Viceversa, the songs that commence at breakneck speed eventually open up into emotional mid-tempos and memorable melodies (“Haunted Shores”). The flow between the different sections and tempos is masterfully arranged. This constitutes a massive improvement over Cradle of Filth’s previous compositions, where the band often failed to find the right connection between the different segments of their songs.

The improved songwriting comes together with a huge step-up in individual performances. Dani Filth’s voice is miles better than on the debut album, exploring a full gamut of styles and vocal techniques, from deep baritone spoken-word vocals, to enraged snarls, to ear-piercing shrieks. His performance is technically astonishing as well as emotionally charged, and really elevates the album’s material to a whole new level. Nicholas Barker’s drumming is phenomenal as always, and it is greatly exalted by the smooth and clean production. Speaking of production, this is probably one of the best sounding Cradle of Filth’s album ever recorded. Producer Kit Woolven (Thin Lizzy, Anathema, Cathedral) strikes a fantastic balance between rawness and detail, letting each instrument fully come through in the recordings (even Robin Graves’ bass, which on other records often ended up buried behind the bass drum). Stuart Anstis’ guitars have a fantastic tone, thick and wet and, together with Damien Gregori’s richly symphonic keyboard arrangements, contribute to the record’s lush and velvety feel that suits perfectly the gothic overtones of the album. Anstis’ guitar work also deserves huge praise per se. His melodic twin leads and counterpoints are fantastic: simple, tasteful and extremely effective in giving the music extra depth and texture.

Song after song, Dusk is an unstoppable collection of extreme metal masterpieces. Among these, the three tracks in the middle of the record really stand out for me. “Funeral in Caprathia” is one of the most iconic and best songs ever written by Cradle of Filth. From its epic beginning to its languid ending, the song is a treasure trove of great musical moments that do not simply amaze from a technical viewpoint, but are also capable of stirring up emotions and excite. The track is followed by another fantastic song, the gothic masterpiece “A Gothic Romance”, where Stuart Anstis’ guitar is particularly impressive. “Malice Through the Looking Glass” completes the exceptional trio. This is one of the newer songs that was not recorded with the old line-up. The track builds on a poignant mid-tempo and is instrumentally richer compared to the rest of the album material. Cleverly placed in the middle of the album, this gives the listener some respite from Dani’s hyperactive vocal lines, which can at times feel a little overbearing. I also want to mention “Beauty Slept in Sodom”, which is another slightly unusual track that feels different from the rest of the material. The music is doomy, dissonant and almost hallucinated, giving the song a vaguely experimental and progressive feel.

In summary, Dusk … and Her Embrace is an exceptionally strong album. Packed with incredibly well written and balanced material, and gifted by a strong production, the album goes from strength to strength across its 9 songs. There is no filler or weak spot here, everything sounds fresh, captivating and exciting. It received a fantastic response when it was released back in 1996, which projected the band to the top of the extreme metal movement, making them one of the best known acts in the genre. Deservedly so, I would add, since this is arguably the best album that Cradle of Filth have recorded to date and indeed one of the best records in the whole extreme metal scene.
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