Album Review: Cradle of Filth - "Total F*cking Darkness"

Devotees of Cradle of Filth already know much of this story, but way back in the day, Cradle was working toward releasing an album called “Goetia,” which was completely erased when the record label went out of business. The album was scrapped, never to see the light of day, and was followed by the band’s third demo, “Total Fucking Darkness,” before they ultimately got signed by another label and the popular portion of their career began. Well, completists can rejoice, because some of the “Goetia” material, along with that demo have been re-mastered, combined and released unto the world as part of a limited edition pressing.

Resurrected by Dani Filth, the twelve cuts on “Total Fucking Darkness,” a two LP set containing not only the aforementioned songs but also some previously unreleased odds and ends, represent the very genesis of Cradle of Filth, from back in the day when Dani was still predominately grunting his way through the lyrics and the raw rhythms were undeveloped and thorny.

These recordings represent a time before even the mighty Paul Allender had totally shaped his personal idiomatic sound and imprinted it on the band. That said, the seeds of all things Cradle of Filth are present here, even if the song titles (and even the name of the release itself,) lacks the usual Cradle articulation.

To listen to “Total Fucking Darkness” is to hear experiments in genre craft, a band that at the time was steeped in the constructed mysticism of black metal’s paradigm and trying to reflect it in new ways. The experiments didn’t always come together in those early days, but that doesn’t mean they were a failure. It’s not altogether difficult to listen to the mixed cadences and blended themes of “The Black Goddess Rises” and hear the kind of counter intuitive compositional style that eventually would place Cradle of Filth firmly on the avant garde.

The two LP’s are choked with the standard, wild Cradle fare, the raucous chorusing and written-to-the-margins nature of their music evidenced in most of the cuts, particularly album header “Spattered in Faeces.” Really, the preeminent word that can be used for this recording, even despite some studio magic in the remastering, is ‘raw.’ Every cut, with the exceptions of comparatively gentle instrumental pieces like the quite good “Fraternally Yours, 666,” bristles at the very idea of constraint.

This odd walk through seemingly ancient band history ends with “Unbridled at Dusk,” which is the clearest example, even in its moderate pacing, of what the future would hold for Cradle of Filth. It is haunting and genius in its relatively simple construction, conveying the kind of emotion that the band would hone for future releases.

With all that said, “Total Fucking Darkness” is best suited for the hardest of hardcore fans and completists, as the music contained herein is pretty abstract and hard to follow. Even Cradle fans of the last ten or fifteen years will find the music on this re-master to be grating and in stark contrast to what they’ve come to know as Cradle of Filth based on their popular releases. If you absolutely have to have this to know and own the complete band’s history, then knock yourself out. Otherwise, you might be best left to just stick to the most recent records.

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