CRADLE OF FILTH — V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein (review)

CRADLE OF FILTH — V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein album cover EP · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
V Empire is the second studio release by British extreme goth metallers Cradle of Filth. Released in 1996, it is an EP that was recorded to set the band free of their contractual obligations with their record label Cacophonous Records (the band will soon sign a deal with Music For Nations to release their second, and immensely successful, full-length Dusk … and Her Embrace). Given this background story, one may expect V Empire to be a sub-par, throwaway release, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. V Empire is actually an excellent record, much superior to the band’s debut album The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, and at times capable of competing with the impending heavyweight Dusk … and Her Embrace.

Relative to the band’s debut full-length, Cradle of Filth sport a new line-up on this record, with guitarist Stuart Anstis and keyboard player Damien Gregori joining drummer Nicholas Barker, bassist Robin Graves and singer Dani Filth after the demise of half of the band following the debut record (a second guitarist, some Jared Demeter, is mentioned in the CD booklet, but it turns out this was just to give the impression that the band still had two guitar players, when in fact Anstis recorded all guitar parts on the record). This is the same line-up that will record Dusk … and Her Embrace and indeed the sound of the album is closer to Dusk than to the debut. The gothic and melodic elements find more space on this album and so do the female vocals that here are not just used in the form of recitations but also to sing melodies. The brutality and aggression are toned down a notch. The guitar work is more melodic and closer to classic heavy metal than to black metal. Nicholas Barker’s drumming, although always furious and hyperactive, is more nuanced, using fills and breaks and a more varied and less relentless approach. Dani’s vocals have also improved. His performance is more varied and sophisticated and his voice does not sound so strained and tentative as on the debut.

The songwriting and production also show clear signs of improvement. The production is cleaner and more nuanced. The drum sound is vastly improved compared to the debut, and one can now hear all the subtleties in Barker’s playing that were totally lost on the previous record. The guitar tone is also quite good, powerful but not too harsh. Perhaps the EP sounds a bit too loud, but this is a minor issue. The songwriting approach is still complex and multi-layered as on the debut, but Cradle of Filth have now learned to streamline their compositions to make them more accessible and memorable. This is particularly the case on “Queen of Winter, Throned”, by far the best track of the EP and one of the greatest songs ever written by the band. The use of a catchy and melodic chorus that is repeated a handful of times is a useful signpost that greatly helps the listener to orientate among the whirlwind of tempo changes and alternations between fast and furious segments and melodic episodes. The track lasts more than 10 minutes, but the music is so adventurous and smoothly composed that time flies by as one listens to it.

The other tracks included in the EP are two short semi-instrumentals pieces, a re-recording of “The Forest Whispers My Name” from the debut, and two new compositions, “Nocturnal Supermacy” and “The Rape and Ruin of Angels”. All tracks are enjoyable, albeit none reaches the level of quality of “Queen of Winter, Throned”. “Nocturnal Supermacy” is probably the song that gets closer to it. It’s a slightly more aggressive piece, similar to some of the material that had appeared on the debut, but it has some great, memorable moments and a good level of energy. “The Forest Whispers My Name” was a good, but slightly chaotic track on the debut. The new version improves it, especially since the playing is tighter and the vocals are better. “The Rape and Ruin of Angels” starts with the most furious and fastest episode of the EP before plunging into a moody mid-tempo, only to accelerate then again. It feels like this is a track written using the same template of “Queen of Winter, Throned”, albeit less successfully.

Overall, V Empire is a strong sophomore recording, showing that the band is on a clear upward trajectory. Indeed, in the same year when this EP came out, Cradle of Filth will release what many consider their crowning achievement, the LP Dusk … and Her Embrace. V Empire is not at that level, but it does come close especially in its best tracks. It is not by chance, after all, that a song like “Queen of Winter, Throned” will become a staple of Cradle’s live concerts for years to come: it is that bloody good! In sum, give this EP a chance and don’t be discouraged by the fact that it was released as an escamotage to fulfill the contractual obligations with Cacophonous. Highly recommended!
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