Updated: Mar 6
The blood-stained tragedy of the Blood Countess, Erzsebet Bathory, is the stuff of horror legend. The Hungarian noblewoman is history's most prolific female serial killer, accused of torturing and murdering hundreds of young women in her twenty years of mayhem. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of her story is her affinity for blood, as she is said to have bathed in the blood of her victims to preserve her youth and beauty.
In the Year of Our Lord 1998 A. D., the English purveyors of gothic black metal known as Cradle of Filth released their third full-length and first full-fledged concept album, Cruelty and the Beast. The disc sensationalizes and memorializes the sadistic Bathory and her crimes as singer Dani Filth growls and shrieks his verses and curses. Comprising of guitarists Stuart Anstis and Gian Pyres, bassist Robin Graves, keyboardist Lecter, drummer Nicholas Barker, and backing vocalist Sarah Jezebel Deva, this line-up may be the best the outfit ever assembled, and this record serves as exhibit A. Now, over twenty years after its initial release, this classic of the black metal genre is slashed open and recut for this special "Re-Mistressed" edition.
Starting things off is "Once Upon Atrocity," which sounds like it was ripped straight from the opening title sequence of a Gothic horror film. Its orchestral tones set the scene for the story about to unfold, as it bleeds into "Thirteen Autumns and a Widow." Blast beats are plentiful here, as the choral undertones come through beautifully. One thing I noticed between this and the original disc was the increased presence of the bass guitar, which before was only audible during the off bass interlude or slower section in songs later in the album. The reverb is toned down just a hair as well, allowing for a fuller overall sound that doesn't end up tripping over itself as bits of the original work did.
Then comes what many consider the finest individual song that Cradle ever produced, "Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids." As frenetic as the intro is, the second verse, with its straightforward time signature and tempo that begs one to bang their head, always stuck out to me. Nicholas Barker is one of my favorite drummers in metal, and his prowess is on full display here.
"Beneath the Howling Stars" picks up the pace from the first three tracks, though the bass interlude preceding Dani's growling of the song's title gets me every time. Following a monster like "Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids" is a tall order, but "Beneath the Howling Stars" manages to do so. The second instrumental, "Venus in Fear," brings back the organ, this time beneath screams of both pleasure and pain. "Desire in Violent Overture" has some hellified rhythm guitars, with fast picking that makes my right hand hurt just envisioning the speed.
"The Twisted Nails of Faith" has a synth intro that stabs with every note. The middle section has a galloping feel with triplets galore. This gives way to the eleven-minute, three-movement "Bathory Aria," which builds up to its madness, which sees one epic drum fill right around 7:25. The narration in the finale by Ingrid Pitt is haunting and imposing, as the Countess meets her end in this story. A final interlude, "Portrait of the Dead Countess," is a proper comedown from the wild ride that the aria was.
The final track of the album proper, "Lustmord and Wargasm (The Lick of Carnivorous Wounds)," is chock-full of the classic Cradle sound, even with the longer sections of machine gun double-kicks that only a handful of older Cradle songs do. This remastered version adds the band's cover of Iron Maiden's masterpiece "Hallowed Be Thy Name," and another revelation rises from the remastered track. The faster section, especially towards the end of the song, there are more crash hits than once thought, as well as a more pronounced keyboard part throughout.
By remastering this iconic record, Cradle of Filth has brought their most infamous work back to prominence. Newer fans of the group can now get a taste of the way things used to be, and older fans can enjoy this legendary album all over again, picking out finer details that may have been lost in the mix before. Perhaps, if the remasters are on the docket for the band, next year will see a 20th anniversary re-release of Midian.