Cradle of Filth - “Dusk...And Her Embrace: The Original Sin”
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Cradle of Filth have always been more of a cartoon of a black metal band than an actual black metal band, but there’s no doubt they played an important role in the development of many a metalhead, whether they admit it or not. I’m one of them. Dusk...And Her Embrace and Damnation And A Day, the first two Cradle records I got my hands on and played obsessively, are milestones on my climb up from the bottom of the nu-metal/radio-rock barrel. Dani Filth’s unforgivably goofy but undeniably literate and frequently badass lyricism still shapes the way I approach metal lyrics to this day. While Damnation ultimately got more play, Dusk has a special place in my collection as one of the only albums capable of transforming my mood without the help of any specific emotional tether. It’s usually the case that my favorite songs and albums are intensely linked to one or several memories, but Dusk, through some freak collusion of hypnotic instrumentation, charmingly bad production, and my own ignorance of black metal at large, was and arguably still is a unique formative experience I’m happy to have had.
But apparently, there was a version of Dusk...And Her Embrace I and the rest of the metal world had never heard “collecting dust on somebody’s shelf” - a phrase straight from the horse’s mouth. In the early ’90s when Cradle of Filth was as close to true black metal (or trve, I guess) as they were ever going to get, Cradle was hot off the underground success of The Principle of Evil Made Flesh but ready to jump ship from Cacophonous Records. The narrative I believed, and which virtually every resource on the band available to fans perpetuated until the release now on hand, was that Cradle rushed 1995’s V Empire, or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein to fulfill their contractual obligations and hurried off to record Principle’s proper full-length follow-up, Dusk...And Her Embrace. However, it’s come to light that Dusk was written and recorded a year before the album we got in 1996, shelved, and then re-recorded to become 1996’s Dusk...And Her Embrace. The original recordings were kept but forgotten, and rather incredibly left out of the band’s history. No one in twenty years made any mention of these recordings. Not Cacophonous, not Cradle’s next label Music for Nations, not any of the approximately 600 members that have contributed to Cradle of Filth over the years.
It’s not clear what might have prompted this re-release other than the pleasant ring of a twentieth anniversary “gift to the fans,” building nicely off of Cradle unexpected return to form with last year’s Hammer of the Witches. I don’t think I can stress enough just how great a treat this re-release of Dusk...And Her Embrace (now with the oh-so-appropriately corny subtitle The Original Sin) actually is for fans like myself who owe a chunk of their lives to the ’96 version. Sure, Damnation got more play in the long run, but I still listened to Dusk more than most of my other favorite albums combined, and I come back to it every now and then to rediscover its inimitable atmosphere and almost supernatural power over me.
There. I said it. There’s something magical about Cradle of Filth’s breakout record, and it’s still there on these “new” recordings, just in altered (or premature) form. It’s not just the mix that’s different, here, but the performances themselves are not what was heard in 1996. I chalk it up to the fact that this version of Dusk was written and recorded in a headspace similar to the one that birthed V Empire: a volatile mix of desperation, impatience, and uncertainty as Cradle were extricating themselves from the mess with Cacophonous and simultaneously hunting for a new label. The mix on Dusk ’96, tends to mash their dual guitar harmonies with the keyboard and backing choirs, producing an eerie, abstract hum. The drums, bass, and topmost layer of keyboards tend to dominate and steer the tracks I grew up with, battling Dani’s vocals for supremacy more often than not. It creates this vivid, phantasmagoric tension that isn’t present on The Original Sin. Instead, the guitars and keyboards are more naturally spaced out in the mix so that riffs actually resemble riffs, with tones and discernable progressions and all. The drums are centered, the keyboards don’t saturate these songs so much as hang around them like a mist, and Dani isn’t swooping from average growls to his legendary upper register like a flaming bat. For the most part, he sounds like the Dani on The Principle of Evil Made Flesh: a little primitive, but closer in tone to conventional black metal. What he lacks in range (or is simply holding back) he makes up for in sheer power. Again, we can’t solely blame the production: his vocals on The Original Sin are genuinely the most ferocious performance he ever put to wax. For those familiar with Dusk ’96, that difference is going to leap out from the moment Dani opens up on “Heaven Torn Asunder.” Like never before or after, he sounds like he’s fronting the “most evil band on the planet,” as was their all-too-brief reputation.
These are the most outstanding, generalized dissimilarities between the two versions of Dusk now available to us, but there are a small novel’s worth of alterations to point out: Fills that weren’t there before, riffs and keyboard lines buried too far back in the ’96 mix to discern; even some song structures are altered, the most obvious being “A Gothic Romance (Red Roses for the Devil’s Whore).” The first few minutes will be familiar to Cradle fans, but not in this context, since they appear to have been lopped off to later become the title track of Dusk ’96. That later version would also replace what (frankly, hilariously) sounds like members of the band doing their best wolf-howl impressions with actual samples of howling wolves. This is one of a few problems with these “first take” recordings, evidence that the time Cradle of Filth took to edit Dusk...And Her Embrace was for the best. I can’t help but wince at some of changes to what I consider crucial pieces of the album’s atmosphere: “The Graveyard By Moonlight” is tonally and compositionally a complete different piece of music, showy where the ’96 version was subdued. The ’96 version effortlessly lives up to its title, but this one does not. The simple harpsichord plucking that opens “Beauty Slept in Sodom” on a creepy medieval note on Dusk ’96 is a comparatively plain piano on The Original Sin, only somewhat leavened out by the clearer guitar solo toward the album’s latter third. Much of the spoken-word across the album that seems so eerily sincere on the ’96 version is hopelessly tacky amid The Original Sin’s more bombastic mix.
If this was a review for the Dusk...And Her Embrace that Cradle of Filth actually gave us twenty years ago, that album would earn top marks without question. Even removing (with difficulty) my personal bias toward the album, I’m confident that Dusk represents the pinnacle of Cradle of Filth’s career, the product of a black metal A-team of like-minded musicians with technical skill perfectly aligned with their creative vision. I have to knock my score for The Original Sin down not as a result of it lacking the connection I have with the Dusk of 1996, but for the fact that these are well-composed, well-performed, but by their very nature, flawed versions of better songs that needed (and eventually received) the tweaking necessary to capture the full scope of Cradle’s “principle black metal master plan.”
- Brian L.