Latest release: Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa (Peaceville/Riot!)

In the wake of 2008’s Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder, an album based on the life and crimes of medieval serial killer Gilles de Rais, Cradle of Filth mastermind Dani Filth vowed that there would be no more concept albums from the band. It only took half an album’s worth of material to be laid down for their most recent release, however, before he had a change of heart.

“When we had about four songs which showed the direction the new album was gonna go, the idea just suggested itself,” Dani says on the phone from his home in England. “I think it was the music. It was, compared to the last record, a bit more sinuous, faster, more symphonic. And I guess that’s how it came about.”

Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa is more or less a companion to the last effort, this time detailing the misadventures of a female protagonist. In some ways, it’s very much like their 1998 breakthrough about Elizabeth Bathory, Cruelty and the Beast. The main difference is that this time the story is completely original and not drawn directly from history or literature.

“We’ve linked it to some historical facts and whatever,” Filth says, before explaining the tale in his typically congenial fashion. “The story concerns Adam’s first wife Lilith but we wanted to take her out of the whole Garden of Eden myth and introduce her to the world circa 14th Century, put the Knights Templar in there, Carmelite nuns and mix it with Egyptian, Sumerian and Jewish mythology wrapped up in this erudite tale of sex and death.”

Dani himself suggested in the lead up to the album’s release that Darkly, Darkly was the heaviest and fastest album Cradle had done in a long time. That could lead some to suggest that the band had somehow strayed from the path of extreme heavy metal in recent years.

Dani Filth is having none of that sort of talk.

“In Cradle of Filth we try and make each album different from the last one. In lots of respects on this one, compared to Godspeed… Well, Godspeed was a very heavy record, and this may not be heavier but it’s certainly faster, more symphonic, more cinematic. There’s little things, like vocal techniques, more guitar solos, freeform piano. Ashley, our keyboardist, is a grade A pianist. So there’s little bits like that that all add up to colour the bigger picture.”

Musically and stylistically, Cradle of Filth has never let much stand in its way. From ritualistic death metal to black metal to ever more elaborate symphonic metal with choirs and orchestras, to direct crossover into commercial metal with Iron Maiden-style melodies and occasional dabblings in thrash, this band has done just about everything. The experimentation is far from over either, with the fully-orchestral Midnight in the Labyrinth being completed as present.

“We’re working on an orchestral album, hence why there was no orchestral pieces separately on this one. We didn’t want to do overkill. So it’s an album of orchestral tracks based on our first four records. You’ve got songs like “Summer Dying Fast”, “Forest Whispers My Name”, “Rape and Ruin of Angels”, “Funeral in Carpathia”, “A Gothic Romance” etc etc, all done as these big Tim Burton/John Williams symphonies. Andwe’re going to organise the choirs and record those on [November] 20th. So that’s something else that we’re working on. It’s called Midnight in the Labyrinth and possibly will see the light of day in the middle of next year.”

A notoriously hard-working band, it seems as if Cradle — Dani in particular — never rests. In close to 20 years, they’ve made nine albums, almost a dozen other releases including EPs, DVDs, live albums and compilations, appeared in the critically reviled 2001 horror film Cradle of Fear and toured constantly. If that wasn’t enough, during 2009 Dani worked with Metal Hammer’s Gavin Baddeley on The Gospel of Filth, a type of portmanteau band biography/occultist tome.

“Cradle of Filth is a bit of a lifestyle really!” Dani says with a chuckle.

He counts himself lucky that he has been able to use his music as a launch pad for other artistic endeavours and he’s extremely pleased with how Gospel panned out.

“The whole crux of the book really, [was] using each of our albums as a springboard to leap into whatever the subject matter was about. And I feel incredibly lucky to have worked on the book and in doing the research and that, to have these people along. We have James Hetfield in the book, we have Dario Argento, Marilyn Manson, Clive Barker, Robert Ressler the FBI serial killer expert, Anton LaVey… it is full of people that validate the subject matter we’re talking about. So yeah, I felt pretty lucky after doing that!”

Such a hard work ethic is conducive to high levels of burn out, and the number of line-up changes the band has been through verges on the uncountable. As the band’s identifiable leader, Dani is often the one who cops the blame every time someone leaves.

“I get a lot of flak because there’s different members all the time,”he says with a laugh. “I think people see it like I’m being a dictator and that’s not true at all. The last two people that exited the band actually left for their own careers. Rosie [Smith] our keyboardist left to have a career tutoring and then she got married, which was another reason, and our previous guitarist Charles left to be the singer in a similarly-themed black metal band [Imperial Vengeance]. I think it’s a lot of work being in Cradle of Filth, as you can tell! You can’t stay the course if you’ve got other designs. It’s like working at a radio station or a magazine. People come and go. But Paul is a core member, Dave is a core member. James has come back. He left to do something with his career just after Nymphetamine, and he’s come back for this record. So it’s not a complete revolving door. But yeah, the core elements that is the fire of Cradle of Filth is there, so it’s not exactly a clean slate [each time] but it does give us a bit more… scope I s’pose.”

Cradle of Filth still appears to be a magnet for controversy even twenty years into their existence, as if they somehow pose some libertine threat to social and moral values everywhere they go. Dani Filth contends the notion that he deliberately sets out to shock, however.

“Well we don’t go out looking for [controverysy]” he says. “But that’s because we’re an extreme band with extreme views, and I’m not talking about Nazism or anything like that! We have extreme views about religion and the world order and horror movies. So every now and then we will cross that line, but we won’t realise we’re doing it.”

On one dubious aspect of the band’s history, however, he declares himself guilty.

“Except the ‘Jesus is a Cunt’ t-shirt,” he says, with a tinge of regret in his voice, “that’s a different matter. But you see that was created when I was 18, and now I’m 37 so that’s been hanging around like an albatross for a few years.”

That shirt is still banned from public display and even from sale in several countries, and as recently as earlier this year someone was arrested for wearing it in a Queensland shopping centre.

“Well I’m not pleased about [something like that]”, Filth says in dismay. “You don’t go to a kids’ school naked, or something like that. You’ve got to choose your moment. I mean, I’ve worn the Jesus shirt out, but not to a shopping mall because that… that’s gonna cause controversy. There’s a time and place for everything.”

Earlier Dani had mentioned that he didn’t want to commit overkill on Darkly, Darkly which, considering he’s the lead vocalist of a band that has maintained notoriety for being over-the-top, sounds like a strange thing to say. But he’s adamant that the band’s intentions for the album was in finding a balance between all the various elements of the music and the story.

“The hardest thing about this record was finding equilibrium. An equilibrium that exists between the symphonic stuff and the metal stuff, and also the equilibrium between making a heavy metal record and making a concept record. So it sounds very hard, but I think we got it right so if you were on iTunes or something you could pick out random tracks and enjoy them solely as, ‘Wow, a heavy metal song! This is great!’ But if you do want to scratch beneath the surface, there’s a whole world there, there’s a whole story that runs concurrently throughout the lyrics, the artwork, everything does its best to give you that theatrical, cinematic feel. That was the equilibrium that we were trying to source.”

As mentioned, the significant lack of orchestral interludes on Venus Aversa is a direct consequence of the group’s next planned release, which Dani explains was originally intended to introduce the band on its new label, Peaceville Records.

“We actually started working on this symphonic album last year, and then of course the momentum of Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa kind of crept up and then we put this on the backburner. All the songs are totally like movie soundtracks. As I say it’s all tracks from our first four records. But we’re going to slip an original track on there as well. You know, just because we can!”

Cradle of Filth’s penchant for doing precisely as they please (“This band’s motto is probably ‘Fuck ’em!” Dani says) with regard to musical and artistic direction has always seem them subject to accusations of arrogance, and their image and fastidious attention to detail that surrounds their work is often misconstrued. But taking what they do seriously is not the same thing as taking themselves too seriously.

“It’s so easy to disappear up one’s own arse,” Dani says, with affected pomposity. “When you see loads of bands standing around emulating other bands… like a friend of mine who’s into metal. He was looking through the Gospel of Filth and there was pictures of some bands in there in the black metal section. And he was just laughing his head off,” he says, clearly warming to this and relishing what he’s about to say next: “And he said ‘Look! Look at this guy! He’s skinny as a rake, he’s wearing make-up like an upturned badger, poncing around in the woods with a stick! If he walked down the road, I’d just smash his face in!'”

He explodes in a peal of laughter that sounds not that unlike a character from one of his albums, before going on.

“It’s this ingrown machoism. People totally think, once you pick a guitar up and scream a bit, ‘That’s my life story. I might get some girls’, but you won’t get girls because you’re standing around in a freezing cold forest wearing stupid make-up. So you can take yourself way too seriously.”

With their fondness for make-up and ghoulishness and musical and thematic leanings, Cradle of Filth was linked early to the black metal scene that was developing on the other side of the North Sea. Like so much of what the band has done since that formative period, there has been criticism directed at them for moving away from that heritage.

“We didn’t move away from it,” Dani says firmly, “we were never part of it. I mean, we did our first tour with Emperor, we were friends with Immortal, Necromancy… loads of the original bands: Impaled Nazarene, blah, blah, blah, blah… We were part of that, but really we weren’t. We were the only band from England, so we were always separated from the majority by a tract of water.”

After black metal, the most often-used label that’s been stuck onto Cradle of Filth is the poorly-defined “Goth metal” tag, which seems to include virtually any metal band that uses symphonics and female vocals in some way. Dani Filth is reluctant to apply that term to what he does, but he does admit to being a fan of the imagery of Goth.

“I used to like the look of Goth,”he says, “but I always thought the music was really weak. I always thought the people into indie and Goth were just people who wanted to play metal but couldn’t play the music properly. I just didn’t equate with it. I liked the imagery and Gothicism as a subject matter as a form of history and poetry and architecture, it’s great. Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, that kind of thing. It’s just that people can take it a little too far and that’s why we haven’t pushed that onto people because it can be totally misconstrued.”

Another thing he thinks has gone too far is Cradle’s predeliction for concept albums. He’s already sworn off them once, but this time he appears fairly definite.

“I think we’re going to knock the concept album on the head for a little while otherwise we’re just going to be in danger of being serialised,” he admits. “A bit like King Diamond, you know the album’s going to be about a graveyard or a haunted house. That’s not a bad thing! That’s not a slur on King Diamond… I love King Diamond and I think that’s why I like him, because you expect that to happen. But I don’t want that with Cradle. I don’t want people to go, “Ooh, let’s do an album about Jekyll and Hyde” and turn into a bit of a fad.”

After a moment’s thought, he says, “Jekyll and Heidi: by day he’s an elegant doctor and by night he turns into a transvestite”, before again surrendering to that mischievious laugh. It actually sounds like the perfect idea for Cradle of Filth to pursue, but like so often throughout this band’s colourful history, many people would simply not get the joke.