CRADLE OF FILTH — The Principle of Evil Made Flesh (review)

CRADLE OF FILTH — The Principle of Evil Made Flesh album cover Album · 1994 · Melodic Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
2.5/5 ·
British extreme goth metallers Cradle of Filth released their first album The Principle of Evil Made Flesh in 1994, following a handful of demos and a botched attempt at releasing their debut full-length (Goetia, whose tapes were erased by the recording studio when the label withdrew the funds to pay for it). Although much of the line-up that recorded Principle had been together for quite a few years, their future will be short-lived. After the album came out, keyboard player Benjamin Ryan and guitarists Paul Ryan and Paul Allender all left the band (though Allender will return later on in 2000) to form the short-lived goth/doom project The Blood Divine, leaving drummer Nicholas Barker, bassist Robin Graves and singer Dani Filth to carry on on their own.

Principle is a somewhat different beast compared to much of the rest of Cradle of Filth’s discography. Some of the classic trademarks of their sound are already here, such as the romantic and gothic undertones, the use of female recitations and symphonic keyboards, and a guitar approach that sits halfway between extreme metal and classic heavy metal, with ample concessions to melodic leads. But all these traits are just at an embryonic stage on Principle, which is instead characterized by a more extreme and savage stylistic approach, putting the album more firmly into black metal territory than most of their other records. The level of aggression remains high from the opening (post instrumental prelude) title-track through most of the rest of the album, with some songs showcasing an almost punkish bellicosity. Dani Filth’s vocals also sound quite different on this album relative to the vocal style he will develop later on. His voice is raspier and more guttural, the high-pitched shrieks that will soon become his controversial trademark are almost completely absent here. While some may prefer the more standard approach Dani uses on this album, I find it a tad too unidimensional as well as somewhat tentative and strained, as if Dani weren’t fully comfortable with his own performance (which I guess is not unusual for a debut).

Although I vastly prefer their later 1990s and early 2000s output, Principle is a pleasant album to listen to. Its main shortcoming is that it does not contain many stand-out moments and even the best tracks are characterized by a certain compositional clumsiness that bogs them down somewhat. Cradle of Filth’s music is characterized by a very progressive approach to songwriting, with multiple parts segueing into one another often without being repeated more than once, layered guitar and vocal melodies, hyperactive drumming, continuous tempo changes, and sudden alternations of fast and furious episodes with more relaxed and melodic parts. To write such complex compositions while retaining a smooth flow is a difficult art and Cradle of Filth here succeed only in a couple of occasions, like on the moody and majestic “The Black Goddess Rises” and what is probably the best song of the record “Summer Dying Fast” (which is preceded by another great track “A Dream of Wolves in the Snow”, a little atmospheric spoken piece featuring Anathema’s Darren White on vocals). Elsewhere, the songs feel rather messy and overindulgent and they fail to hold my attention through their entire duration. The title-track and “The Forest Whispers My Name” are also decent tracks, although they are played a bit loosely and chaotically, which detracts from the listening experience. The sound production does not particularly help either. The album has a low-fi sound that, if on the one hand it gives the music a nice underground feel that matches well its brutal, punkish energy, on the other hand it makes the sound muddy, which is a problem when one writes complex and articulated music.

Overall, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh is a worthy debut album, foreshadowing the band’s impending success, but not fully reaching the level of quality of their later output. The album does contain some good tracks, though, which indeed will be re-recorded and re-released in different guises in later albums and EPs. If you can get past some of its defects (slightly clumsy compositions, tentative vocals, low-fi production), it can be a pleasant record to play once in a while.
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