Review Summary: Your idealised version of this album, realised
Production can make or break an album. This is a statement that should incite little to no controversy, even amongst the more passive music fans among us. A good record mixed badly can seriously mar the listening experience, and a bad record with solid production can elevate an otherwise unremarkable selection of songs. And then, there’s Cruelty and the Beast. An album so tainted by poor mixing and production choices that the band itself has been its most vocal critics. Rather than beat the dead horse, allow me to sum it up for the uninitiated; Cradle Of Filth’s greatest achievement was fed through the studio mangle, and to call the outcome ‘amateur’ would be unbelievably generous. In fact, prior to writing this review, I went back to the original recording just to ensure that it sounded as hideous as I remembered. It does, and this fact cannot be understated. So, finally, 20 years later, the album has been retouched in the most respectful manner possible, completely rinsing every poisonous second of its formerly disastrous runtime and polishing it until it truly shines. Minus the silly subtitle, this album now feels so fresh it could have been released yesterday.
Disdain for the production of the original recording aside, back in 1998 Cruelty and the Beast was a truly ferocious creation, and although the mixing seriously cast a shadow upon the overall experience, the general power and wonderfully menacing songwriting of the release still shone through. Quintessentially gothic in tone but feverish, frenzied and utterly lurid, the album could perhaps best be described as a depraved fairy tale. The tale of Elizabeth Bathory, the blood countess; an historic serial killer who was responsible for the deaths of many young girls in Hungary during the 1500s. Due to her status as noblewoman, she was able to get away with these crimes for a long period of time, but was eventually found out. Like many stories from history though, fact and fiction collide all too easily, and there is a great deal of disagreement regarding the actual nature of Bathory’s crimes. The most unpleasant and enduring aspect of the story was that she bathed in the blood of her young victims, believing that this would prevent from aging and losing her good looks. As typical as such a concept has come to be for a band like Cradle Of Filth, this album is perhaps the strongest example of their musicality and theming actually working together cohesively. The orchestral refrains, atmospheric narration and creative effects all mesh admirably, but it is the song structures and general scope of the record as a whole that truly sells the experience. This was a main concern I had for a remix album; whether an updated production would create a cleaner but less impactful product. Happy to say, that’s not the case. All updates are tasteful, and actually accentuate the perverted whimsy and aggressive eccentricity in a way absent from the original recording.
Re-Mistressed opts for a clearer, mercifully less muddied approach to production, finally affording the percussion some serious bite and texturizing the guitars to perfection. Gone are the bafflingly feeble drums and comically distorted guitar tone, and in their place; a sleek, well-oiled machine that seamlessly blends modern metal production with the extreme, gothic energy of the album’s theme. This is best observed on the whirlwind verses of ‘Desire In Violent Overture’, which spiral so satisfyingly without the tinny rattle of 1998’s drums beside them. Similarly, ‘Beneath The Howling Stars’’ main riff practically sparkles with its tantrum of cataclysmic fast descends accompanied by Filth’s vicious ascending screech. Other elements, such as ‘The Twisted Nails Of Faith’’s opening shrieking strings, are also tweaked to give them depth, and now they positively trill with foreboding energy. Even during later sections of the release, such as the mid-point in ‘Bathory Aria’, in which classical elements are utilised as a backdrop for the main body of the music itself, the eerie depth remains casting an intimidating glow shining through the tapestry of sound. Certainly, a noteworthy upgrade from the flat, virtually inaudible space they occupied on the original release. All thematic facets of the album, such as the instrumental tracks and the brief narrations, are now crystal clear and feel far less cartoonish than they did previously, due in part to some modified echo effects. Ingrid Pitt has never sounded quite so sinister, and even the lustful moans and chilling screams found on ‘Venus In Fear’ have been contrasted in a more intricate style so as not to seem as deliberately ‘layered’ as they had previously been. Clearly, the updates made to this seminal work have been a labour of love from start to finish, finally affording the album the production value it truly deserves.
A great many tracks on the release have multiple movements contained within them, and these reflect not only the horror elements of the story, but also the state of mind of the character at the album’s centre. The theatrically titled ‘Cruelty Bought The Orchids’, for instance, with its lurches between almost metallic simplicity and vicious thrash in the blink of an eye. Then later, the extended caterwauling of Filth against the repetitive breakdown, followed almost immediately by the classical refrain in which Filth lowers his tone and muses in shriek alongside the piano. It all serves to represent a mind in conflict, reasoning on one side, justification on the other. The breakneck pace at which the song moves sells this notion, and the way it all fits together without clashing is nothing short of spellbinding. Later, ‘The Twisted Nails Of Faith’ with its more discordant tone and evil aura hold a mirror to a mind completely given to base instinct and twisted desires. This leads straight into ‘Bathory Aria’, undoubtedly an album high-point, with its haughty, almost operatic construction and incendiary leaps from enraged breakdown to curiously harmonious interlude. It is this intriguingly schizophrenic yet never conflicting songwriting style which combined brutality with quaintness in such an innovative way that it led to me embracing the album, and the band, many years ago. This newly-realized re-tread not only emphasizes these elements to the standard they should have previously been; it goes beyond that and creates an album ten times more atmospheric and ten times more hard-hitting and fierce. It is no longer a chore to slog through the release, and any modern metal sensibilities that have been employed are warranted and never garish, allowing the album to retain its palpable depth and deliciously dark vibe. The long overdue definitive version of this masterpiece is finally here, and it’s as ugly as it should be.