It is Hallowe’en weekend and difficult to tell apart the people in costumes on a spooky Nottingham night out or those attending tonight’s show by the UK’s premier purveyors of extremity – Cradle Of Filth. The internal is no match for the infernal though, and Rock City’s decorations of cobwebs and radioactive notices ready for partygoers is nothing in comparison to the sinister nine feet tall skeletons adorning each side of the stage – a stage that is quite compact for opening act Naraka.
The French act’s brand of melodic death metal is seriously tight but holy fuck is it loud. So loud that trying to get a coke at the bar reduces the buyer into pretending to be Santa instead of Satan and telling a friend that they are off to the toilet means tapping out an SOS on a phone keypad and a lot of pointing. It is not a distorted loud, the floor does vibrate but the volume actually boxes in the music making it like the riptide of an atom bomb, those double kick drums sound immense and ripped front man Théodore Rondeau’s bark is chest crushing. With a much-lauded Logan Mader (ex-Machine Head) produced debut album In Tenebris released in 2021, Naraka bring the bruises to stage in convincing style.
Fellow countrymen Alcest is not only the polar opposite of Naraka but also a genre tag lover’s dream. Described as black metal, post-black metal, shoegaze and their Le Secret album is considered the origin of black gaze, it is a mind-boggling array and difficult to know which is in play at any given time or what might come next. Alcest deftly blends all of it together to make an all-encompassing wall of sound tuned into musical exploration and with a surreal, dreamy edge to it; one moment there is lush tones with vocalist Neige crooning and the next the warm air is ripped apart with black metal coldness. With simple and elegant lighting, the sepia tones pour into the soundtrack that has the ability to spirit us away – which is the intention considering that the band is influenced by Niege’s childhood contact with an “otherworld”. There are a few closed eyes and raised heads in the audience, new devotees and considerable cheers for a set that has the honour of being miserable and uplifting at the same time.
Where to begin with Cradle Of Filth? Formed during the then nascent black metal scene in 1991, Cradle Of Filth managed to court mainstream publicity form the off and the fact that the Norway’s churches were on fire in the name of black metal brought the genre and Cradle Of Filth into a not so favourable spotlight.
Early records such as The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh and Dusk….And Her Dark Embrace remain well respected black metal gems before the band moved to Music For Nations in the mid-1990s. Retaining their high and occasionally controversial profile – their fans getting arrested for wearing some of the band’s t-shirt designs (the brave wearing them in the dock) and the band themselves had their respective collars felt for wearing their shirts in the Vatican – Cradle Of Filth made a good job at being the very pointy stick poking at the establishment’s caged bear.
It was always backed up by the music, though and with Cradle’s sound developing into an extreme gothic/symphonic hybrid that has never benn short of ambition or scope. Cradle’s vocalist and leader Dani Filth is one of the UK’s finest lyricists and taking inspiration from gothic literature, mythology and horror films has created conceptual albums about historical villains such as “Countess Dracula” Elizabeth Bathory and French baron Gilles De Rais; brought author Clive Barker’s Cabal novel alive musically on the Midian album and signing to a major label for the Milton’s Paradise Lost inspired Damnation And A Day. Cradle Of Filth is on form with their last three albums and their latest Existence Is Futile, but it is the live arena where Cradle Of Filth revel in and is something of a Devil’s playground.
Walking on stage to the intro of their latest album, first song proper kicks off with Existential Terror and Filth takes his place in front of an elaborate snake adorned microphone stand. The elephant in the room is always going to be Filth’s somewhat unique vocal style; a mixture of yelps, barks, death metal growl and how the man still manages to knock out that falsetto without busting a testicle is anyone’s guess.
From the new to the old, Cradle Of Filth takes a step back in time to their early days with Nocturnal Supremacy and Summer Dying Fast. The material might be some of their earliest and primal sounding on record but live, the songs given their 21st century pizazz sound as devastating as they always have. It takes three songs before Dani Filth greets the audience and the “Good evening, London!” is met with a mixture of laughter and boos which are then drowned out by Thornography highlight I Am Thorn. The damp, funeral dirge intro moves to a switchblade sharp barrage of riffs as Filth produces a handheld confetti cannon that showers the audience in a cloud of fluttering crimson.
The band has two relatively new members, – guitarist Donny Burbage and on keys and vocals Zoe Marie Federoff who is difficult to miss while she furiously headbangs an impressive sea of blonde hair. Guitarist Marek ‘Ashok’ Šmerda – currently dressed as ‘Prince of Hell’ cenobite-in-chief Pinhead – often comes to the front of the stage holding his instrument aloft and constantly swaps places with Burbage and bassist Daniel Firth. Crawling King Chaos is announced as a “song for our times” but it is Nymphetamine Fix that gets the biggest cheer from the audience. It is also the song where Zoe Marie Federoff comes into her own with luscious vocals and the interplay with Filth’s voice is utterly sublime with Dani taking a deserved bow at the end.
Heading back in time for A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil’s Whore) and Scorched Earth Erotica before leaping forward to Us, Dark, Invincible, its music box intro blasts into razor blade riffing and hurricane drumming courtesy of Martin “Marthus” Škaroupka. There has to be credit to the sound desk that manages to keep the sound and mix well balanced and while there is some chaos in the music, nothing is lost and especially Filth’s vocals which are crystal clear. The revisit to Cruelty and the Beast-era arrives with Venus In Fear and the caustic blast-fest that is Desire In Violent Overture. The call to arms for audience participation for one song is met with titters of laughter “C’mon Rottingham, it’s only one word!” Mr Filth shouts incredulously and there follows a rampant rendition of Nymphetamine opening track Gilded Cunt and Filth gets an audience chorus of ‘the one word’.
Closing with Her Ghost In The Fog, the signature song is met with a sea of raised hands and Filth crowns the show with an impeccably timed air hand movement and another confetti cannon explodes rainbows into the audience. “Before you go Rottingham. We. Are. Cradle Of Fucking Filth…” growls Filth the man who has every right to look pleased with himself on the back of a definitive performance. No tricks. all treats.
Cradle Of Filth is often described as a “marmite band” which still has much to do with Filth’s vocal style. In one way, it is possible to see where another critic would see a cartoonish element to Cradle and there may be laughs and mirth in Dani Filth’s stage patter but make no mistake how serious this band is. It takes considerable talent to do what Mr. Filth does and it is performances such as this that go a long way to changing perceptions. Tonight, Cradle Of Filth is at their very best. Dedicated to their craft and with thirteen albums, a set list to please both old and new is no easy job but Cradle manages a balancing act that traverses their career and keeps the faithful happy at the same time.
While there is a flurry of activity as Rock City staff move a lot of confetti from the floor, the doors are flung open for the audience to stumble into the night while the Hallowe’en partygoers head in the opposite direction. The two briefly mix together and Nottingham looks like someone forgot to lock the gates of hell; a Samhain moon and the streets filled with zombies, witches and asylum inmates. A darkly joyous sight and one that Cradle Of Filth would be proud to unleash onto the world.