In 1997, CRADLE OF FILTH seemed extreme. Like, really extreme. Though I had already been involved in the underground for several years by then and had been tape-trading for just as long, as I flipped through the pages of American metal magazines in 1997 and saw the havoc of hype Cradle had caused at that year's Milwaukee Metalfest, I couldn't help but be intrigued and maybe even a little intimidated by the band, wondering if I had actually ventured down a path where the infamous and blasphemous Jesus Is A Cunt t-shirt was not only acceptable, but a rallying cry. While that bout of reflection might sound naive now, I was only 16 at the time and the introspection seemed profound. And even though I was tape-trading like mad, reading 'zines and eagerly taking in all that Sweden and Norway's undergrounds could bring to Canada through the mail (finally receiving your orange, bubble-wrapped envelope from northern Europe full of tapes you had traded for was life's most exciting moment), at 16 years old Cradle just seemed like... too much.
After reading the Milwaukee Metalfest articles, I resolved to seek out Cradle of Filth records and my first exposure to the band was 1998's Cruelty and the Beast, which I bought at the HMV Superstore on Montreal's bustling St. Catherine Street West. As I walked around the hallways of my high school the next day with 'Thirteen Autumns and a Widow' ravaging my discman's earphones, the extremity of the band's name - the words 'cradle of filth' strung together seemed to have such gravitas - swirled around my mind. Was I really on board this trip to hell with Dani's jagged, broken glass shriek as my Dante-inspired companion?
Answering that question requires a bit of context, which I'll keep short. When you live in an northern country like Canada, almost half the year is taken up by extreme cold and extreme darkness, where dusk settles in deeply at 4 PM and the sun doesn't rise again until 8 AM or so. Canada's winter temperament is much like Sweden, Norway and Finland's, except way colder. When the outside offers winter's worst hostility, the inside of your home offers the counter-hostility and atmosphere metal is best at providing. And when it came to atmosphere, circa 1998, no one did it with more extroverted flair than Cradle, the band's gothic church-spire keys a representation of that grim, desolate, isolating cold. (Or so I thought, until I discovered MAYHEM and DARKTHRONE shortly thereafter... but that's another story for another time.)
Cradle of Filth's appeal lasted for another few years after the initial Milwaukee Metalfest exposure, and probably culminated in 2000 upon the release of Midian and Cradle career highlight 'Cthulhu Dawn'. After checking out the Midian tour when it came through town in 2001, Cradle's goth-lite atmosphere began to grate: instead of being impressed by Cradle's extremity as I had been at 16, at 20 years old the band just seemed really goofy and I became embarrassed to be associated with Cradle of Filth in any way. Soon, Cradle was relegated to nothing more than the soundtrack to the memory of so many frigid winter nights spent indoors. So, by age 20, with my university diploma in hand and on my way to my first year of law school, Cradle was on my shit list. I had moved on to the authentic strains of ULVER, ENSLAVED, BLOODBATH and NASUM, to name but a few, as well as the aforementioned Mayhem and Darkthrone. Cradle's emphasis on imaginary tales of witchcraft (and Warcraft?) had zero resonance in my urban life that centred around the vibrant downtown core of Montreal. Cradle no longer had any relevance in my life. And it stayed that way.
So, here I am, a lawyer in my early 30s taking in what is, unbelievably, Cradle of Filth's tenth LP. Full disclosure forces me to reveal that there's a slight twist in the story: I had a surprising and wholly unexpected mini-affair with Cradle's 2011 record, Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa, a torrid state that culminated in listening to the album on the subway at 5:30 AM and wondering why I had abandoned Cradle so long ago (clearly, at 5:30 AM, I was in a state of delusion). Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa is probably Cradle of Filth's most complete and most representative album and the band is certainly to be commended for executing such an impressive abomination (to use Dani speak) so late in its career. Which leads us The Manticore and Other Horrors.
The first thing a long-time Cradle follower will notice is that The Manticore is, undisputedly, the group's most punk record, the riffs here rooted in a fiercer version of NWOBHM and, at times, resembling the writing found on so many forgotten punk albums of the late-'90s and early-'00s. Given the nature of this influence, it's sort of jarring to the hear the juxtaposition of the keys and the punk riffs, these songs sounding like two disparate parts playing at once without any real awareness of each other. But, as always, The Manticore and Other Horrors is consummately professional and, much like every Cradle effort since Damnation and a Day, sounds expensive, which I suppose is totally appropriate and suitable for the goth elegance Cradle keeps up in image and spirit. The other intriguing element surrounding The Manticore is just how back loaded this record is, the album beginning its summit only at track six, 'Frost on Her Pillow', and peaking on its tenth song, the fantastic 'Succumb To This'. When the melody prominently found in 'Succumb To This' hits and hits fully, the long lost version of yourself - the one who listened to Cradle inside in 1998 while the howling -30 degree celsius cold outside did its dance of December souls - is awoken and you almost (almost!) want to pay a quick visit to Cradle's website to see when the band is strolling through town next. But then you realise it's 2012. And that this current incarnation of yourself can't relate to Cradle anymore: the context and the externalities just aren't the same. And while you're grateful for the good times, you've moved on and can never go back.
Sorry, Cradle. It's not you, it's me.