Latest release: Hammer of the Witches (Nuclear Blast)
It has all the elements of a spy novel or a crime drama. Shady late-night goings-on, people being sworn to secrecy. The story of rock’s most notorious band t-shirt is so compelling, chapters keep being written more than twenty years on. When a display cabinet featuring Cradle of Filth’s iconoclastic ‘Jesus is a Cunt’ shirt was defaced during an exhibition in Wellington, New Zealand, recently Rolling Stone magazine ran a feature story on the design’s history.
“We’ve been in Rolling Stone a few times and I thought it was going to be one of those things where they get all the facts wrong,” band leader Dani Filth says pleasantly. “I was surprised by how well written the piece was and by some of the facts because there were some things that had been investigated about the shirt that I wasn’t aware of, so it was quite interesting.”
Conceived as an anarchic statement, Jesus was chosen as the subject because “he’s a strong mythological figure that people can identify with.” But it initially meant problems getting printed, leaving Dani to scour the Suffolk countryside looking for someone who would do the job.
“We had to go around to local villages and no one would print the shirt up and eventually someone did but we weren’t allowed to tell anybody and they gave it to us in a sealed bag,” he says, laughing. “It’s going to be a constant bugbear, that shirt. You get a tattoo and people say, ‘You’ll have that forever’… I’ve got that shirt.”
Twenty-two years later, Cradle of Filth is riding a wave once again as their latest album Hammer of the Witches wins critical plaudits around the world, even cementing a position in the ARIA Top 30. It has been the most positive response to one of the band’s releases in quite some time. Dani puts that down to better cohesion between the players and the re-establishment of Cradle as a sextet.
“I think it’s the due to becoming a full band again – a full writing band, with everyone contributing, and the fact that we’ve got two brand new guitarists,” Filth says. “They’re both very very talented, both big fans of Cradle and we’ve nailed the whole twin guitar harmonies thing that was the premise of our past sound… we have a huge amount of fans who are attracted to that.”
Hammer of the Witches sees a return to the twin guitar dynamic that was present in much earlier Cradle of Filth albums – Dani nominates their late 90s period as a particular favourite of fans.
“I guess it’s just a bunch of things that people like, I guess they get nostalgic about a certain period in our history, which is around Dusk… and Her Embrace and Midian, and many critics have argued that this album is reminiscent of that period. Which I suppose it is, because that was a very guitar-dominated period, very cinematic and I suppose this album heralds that epoch in a fresh way.”
Dual guitar heavy metal is a very old and staunch British tradition that goes back to the pioneers like Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy, and Cradle of Filth are proud upholders of that tradition. Dani Filth has a tenuous connection to that 70s period, as he explains in an aside about almost being a part of the 2012 stage production of The War of the Worlds.
“I went to Jeff Wayne’s manor – this big house with a big studio – to try out for the part, it never happened in the end, because the tour fell right when Cradle were touring as well but I was going to take on the part of Phil Lynott… his part as Parson Nathaniel.”
Working on an elaborate concept piece would have been, of course, nothing unusual for Dani, although he points out that Hammer of the Witches, like the album before it, doesn’t incorporate a continuous narrative. Instead, Hammer is a series of different tales with an occultist theme running through them.
“For all intents and purposes to a lot of other people it may seem conceptual, but this one’s rather like satellites all orbiting a main theme,” he explains. “If you see the artwork and what a great job the artist Arthur Berzinch has done – he’s almost made it like a walk-through art gallery and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a conceptual piece once you see how he’s done everything so beautifully.”
Incredible artwork has always been an important part of the complete Cradle of Filth package with every release. Berzinch is just the latest in a long line of artists the band has enlisted to create the striking Gothic and at times highly sexualised imagery which has draped their albums and merchandise, much of which remains popular today.
“We don’t try to outdo each one,” Filth promises, “we just try to do something that’s good as its predecessor – although I wasn’t very happy with the artwork on the last record. We have worked with predominantly amazing artists over the years since we first started working with Nigel Wingrove and Chris Bell, Stu Williamson to JK Potter, John Coulthart, Samuel Araya and now Arthur Berzinch. The funny thing is, when you approach these artists, who are phenomonally good and have international acclaim, you’re surprised to learn they’ve heard of Cradle of Filth and are willing to become part of that clique of artists. Maybe it’s a challenge for them to add their identity to it.”
Song writing for Cradle of Filth can also be a challenging task, but with a full band involved once again and Dani Filth abandoning, for the present, the idea of complete concept albums, the process has become easier. The depth of their material can still present occasional issues, however, as the singer explains.
“I usually have to wade through about three or four songs and commit to them at first, then colloborate on them to a point where they’re about 80% there and structured,” he says. “Because my lyrics are quite involved so if somebody decided at the eleventh hour they wanted to take out a riff, I’m like, Well, looks like I’m going to have to start again or my story’s not going to have a chapter in it. So I wait until we’ve got three or four songs so I know we’ve got a direction for an album that’s not going to veer into bloody reggae or anything like that and it’s then that you can start to get a feel for what the album’s going to be about or what themes are going to be running though it.”
It didn’t take long for him to decide what the theme of Hammer of the Witches would be.
“Early on,” says Filth, “the songs suggested an album that was witchcraft and demonology based and had a very deep medieval bent to it.”
For most of their career, Cradle of Filth has had something of a reputation for shock tactics and controversial content even though, the ‘Jesus is a Cunt’ shirt discounted, most of their work has steered away from direct attacks on Christianity or religion. Dani Filth’s personal interests run more into occultism and notorious historical figures like Elizabeth Bathory (Cruelty and the Beast) and Gilles de Rais (Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder).
“We can shock people because we overstep what, I guess, people might see as acceptable, but we don’t really mean to do it. We’ve got a lot of shit in the past from people for being too Gothically poetic… you can’t win, really. There are some things we do that take things to extremes, and that [shirt] was one of them. We don’t see religion as a major enemy. Our work is very occult based, very mythological and historical based… I suppose it’s more about dark fairy tales and the occult.”