As the seasons begin to shift, chilly air giving way to the humidity here in the Midwest United States, most of us don’t go searching for reminders that Halloween is right around the corner. And, for better or worse, Cradle Of Filth has always given me that old monster movie feeling. I have found them to be more seasonally enjoyable than other bands of their ilk. They’re more like Vincent Price and Karloff than Robert Bloch and Lovecraft. All of which scare their fair share, but the latter brings more cataclysmic things to mind than a room full of “Jesus Is A Cunt” T-shirts.
In my review for Existence Is Futile, I wrote that it “may well end up being the first Cradle of Filth album that opens my ears after Halloween.” This statement has proven true, as it was with some excitement that I entered The Machine Shop last Friday.
First of all, The Machine Shop is a great club. A welcoming environment for people who enjoy metal things, and they’ve got a jerky shack out back. Twizted Jerky, your Valhalla trail mix is ridiculous. A little bit of heaven, a little bit of hell in that bag, which fit well with the rest of the evening. Some angelic witchery in the form of a Doom band from Cleveland started it off.
Having Frayle as support for this tour was a genius move. An unconventional choice as far as genre goes, but it plays into the darker side of the horror aesthetic. A more serious, earth-based approach to both music and image – representing the anguish of the mind. Deeply personal and introspective, Frayle’s songs cover things like betrayal, suicide, and church hurt. You may see the light, but still you let the darkness in, and if words like this are whispered by Gwyn Strang into a microphone you will find them difficult to ignore. Backed by a mountain for a rhythm section, which includes Sean Bilovecky’s brilliant guitar playing, Frayle is not a band you want to miss seeing live. They had that Machine Shop crowd all worked up with their self-described heavy witch Doom, and I couldn’t be happier about that because Frayle is a special band. They earned every ounce of love they got that night. I have no doubt more will follow.
The stage was well set for Cradle of Filth, and the crowd sufficiently prepared for Dani Filth’s banshee howls. The gaps, though few, began to fill in with all sorts of different-looking people. Yes, many “Jesus Is A Cunt” T-shirts were bobbing up and down in the sea of CoF merchandise, which seemed more about riding a faux-shock wave than representing any actual ideology. Something CoF clearly has a sense of humor about, along with the fact that they’ve been making money from the design since ’93. One of the funniest things I’ve seen related to this shirt was a guy wearing one that said “Jesus Probably Isn’t That Bad.” I sadly did not see one of those in this crowd.
Opening the set with “Existential Terror” followed quickly by songs from Dusk And Her Embrace, Thornography, and Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa made it clear that the band was about to showcase music from as much of their catalog as possible. Compiling a setlist that covers three decades and fifteen albums in under two hours would be no simple task, especially for a band that has embraced such various subtleties in genre as CoF has over the years. Their style lightly balanced between image and substance, wading the tired waters of intentional controversy, a revolving cast of contributing musicians, and often misunderstood concept recordings the best of which fans squabble about tirelessly. I can see it being a thankless job, too. Dani could howl over songs from ten CoF albums and there would probably still be one dude backstage asking why they didn’t play anything from Damnation And A Day.
The dual guitars of Marek ‘Ashok’ Smerda and Donny Burbage are an interesting example of effective understatement. Ashok took over for long-time CoF consort, Paul Allender, in 2015, which was around the same time the now-departed keyboardist/vocalist Lindsay Schoolcraft started turning heads in the band. Burbage is a new addition as of this year, so at present, Cradle Of Filth has no prominent member other than Dani himself, which is really the only thing that makes sense at this point. A fact unashamedly pointed out by a stage setup that literally hides the drummer behind a glass cage off to the side while the riser typically employed for such matters is left empty for rogue vocalists to stand on for maximum visibility.
Under normal circumstances, I’d have found this irritating. But anyone going to see Cradle of Filth is there to see Dani in all of his perceived superficial, swell-headed glory. Additionally, even a slight CoF fan can see Filth’s smugness for what it is – an important part of the act. An act that also makes use of modesty in the face of greatness by singing the praises of an opening performer, and sincere gratitude for the people who make such a career possible by tirelessly thanking the audience for being there. Couple his words with the debonair English etiquette Filth speaks with, and much of the arrogance on display comes off as oddly delightful confidence.
“We very much appreciate your attendance here at this live event,” I now paraphrase to exaggerate my point, “Please join us in a cacophony of evil applause for our fine friends in Frayle, who so graciously provided us with entertainment at the beginning of this fine, dark evening. Thank you. And I extend this applause to you all on behalf of myself and the rest of the Cradle Of Filth family. This song is for you. It’s called Scorched… Earth… Erotic-aaaahhhhh!!!”
They did play that song, but it was “A Gothic Romance” that changed the vibe of the set. It was then that the show went from seeming performed to the audience to being performed for the audience. It may have come off as less dramatic for some, but it was a revelation for me. As I watched Dani Filth nail vocals he started singing over twenty-five years earlier, I realized I was in the presence of truly individual talent.
No one else on earth sounds like this guy. I’ve spent plenty of time accusing him of arrogance, like some sort of precious Vampire Lestat, but he’s not standing on stage trying to convince anyone he’s anything but a professional musician who’s proud to share his work. Work, I should add, that has consistently pointed out what influenced its creation. On that point, I’d like to address Ashok’s stage attire, which was an ode to Pinhead.
Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley, first became associated with Cradle Of Filth on the Midian album, where he served as the narrator on several tracks. A working relationship that has seen Bradley’s voice appear on four more CoF records. In my opinion never more hauntingly than on “Her Ghost In The Fog,” which closes the Midian album and was the last of three encores Cradle Of Filth performed on Friday.
If the set was dominated by any record, it was Existence is Futile. No different than any other band touring in support of a new album but, as mentioned earlier, balancing a set list with than many songs to choose from is impressive on its own. It would be interesting to look into what the set looks like over the corse of the tour, because it would make sense to vary things. If you’re reading this and planning to catch the tour, shoot us a message and let us know what your experience was like.
If I have yet to make myself clear, I had an excellent time. I wasn’t exactly shocked by this, but did find it surprising how well they did unaided by any consequential stage show. No overbearing light rigs, or fog machines, or pyrotechnics. No extras fancydancing around dressed like Countess Bathory. Just the band, clad in relatively modest corpse paint and modified tactical gear, performing the music people came to hear. As close to a non-production Cradle Of Filth will ever get, I’d imagine. I support this fully, though fancydancing Countess Bathory’s wouldn’t be a terrible addition to future tours. I think I’ll write a letter to CoF management about this.
Photos: J. Wukotich