Review Summary: "I tell you, I'll come 'round and bite your neck, I will."
In tracing the lurid history of Cradle of Filth back to the roots of their sound, an interesting purity is found in their initial studio full-length. Their career has been predominantly composed from dilutions of a wealth of metal subgenres, each then mixed into an intoxicating potion that channels the composite energy into a uniquely aggressive yet operatic sound. The black metal influence found on their later releases would notably diminish, eschewed in favour of more death and melodeath elements, and a cleaner production style- the result of a gradual refinement of intended aesthetic. The Principle of Evil Made Flesh signals black metal in every direction, from the sound to the sleeve design, with each element dripping with gothic energy and brimming with delightfully macabre yet literate lyricism. In many ways, it feels the most focused that CoF have ever been, with sights set squarely on courting the Scandinavian black metal crowds (Hmm...I smell a bandwagon full of unwashed reprobates in corpse paint). This purer focus yields an album that suffers from some ill-advised production choices (a combination of aiming for a truer black metal sound and budgetary constraints), but also one that is positively leaking riffs and morbid energy. It doesn't encapsulate the band as the unique act that they would later come to be known as, but it lays the groundwork in no uncertain terms and manages to compellingly express the black metal energy the outfit were shooting for, with plenty of leftover signature spin to spare.
In-keeping with the black metal aesthetic, the songwriting here is generally simpler and lacking a lot of the complexity and intricacies that would later become a trademark facet of CoF's sound. Tracks like 'Forest Whispers My Name' and 'Dream Of Wolves In The Snow' are grassroots in their approach to composition, burning through riffs and rhythms at a frenzied pace. The somewhat less-dynamic production feels very black metal in tone, but there is still clear definition to the sound, with the trill of the guitars rarely ringing hollow against the din of the distortion. There are occasions, however, where the drums feel to front-and-centre to the mix, particularly cymbals that spontaneously threaten to drown out other sections of the music. Regardless, the overall effect is terrifically full-on and exciting in its barbaric orchestration. Despite the somewhat standardised nature of the sound itself, the album retains that CoF sense of theatricality, with songs such as the title track and 'Crescendo Of Passion Bleeding' containing multiple movements even within their more blinkered scope. They feel like grand orchestrations more in-keeping with the band's established songwriting style, and colour the embittered landscape with bold, thoughtful sweeps. The more abrasive, oppressive cuts on the release similarly evoke the trademark Cradle style, with a more poisonous black metal edge; 'Black Goddess Rises' is a chaotic and groovy anthem of dispassion, anchored with a melodic middle-section but flanked with an obscenely heavy intro/ outro combo. Fully realized, and blisteringly well-orchestrated throughout, it cements the black metal hallmarks but also brands the experience with the distinctive CoF insignia. Similarly, 'To Eve The Art Of Witchcraft' weaves the theatricality of pipe organs with the bombast of the heavily distorted guitar work, crafting an unhinged, sinister slice of blackened nastiness shot through with the band's melodic, brazen songwriting style.
Accepted motifs for the band such as lengthy introductions, orchestral interludes and foreboding narration are given their inaugural chance to shine here, and they suit the tone of the release very well. The gothic hue to the experience is accentuated by these aspects, lending musical framing devices and atmospheric solemnity to an already well-realized slice of dark, moody metal. The usage of symphonic elements is also highly pronounced, with pipe organs making frequent appearances to fortify the gothic overtone. In particular, 'Of Mist And Midnight Skies'' toccata-esque opening is a gorgeously evocative scene-setter, and impressively followed by one of the most dynamic songs on the release. Frontman Dani Filth's technique on The Principle of Evil Made Flesh departs from his iconic vocal style, as he opts for varieties of screaming and growling more typical for the genre at hand. Although not quite as diverse and creative as performances he would later turn in on future releases, the recording is ideal for the sound, with grimacing howls and furious screams that balance between suggestions of indignance and mournfulness, punctuated by sporadic, ear-splitting shrieks. Similarly, his lyrics showcase less of the conceptual tendency that he would later pioneer, covering a throng of topics relating to gothic literature, philosophical and religious ides, and fantastical horror elements. Whilst it doesn't quite reach the quality of the band's peak thematic content, it is undoubtedly diverting and flowery, mired in dread and exceptionally well-written.
Considering the paltry demo recordings that preceded it, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh demonstrates a startling adeptness for a fledgling band's first full-length recording. It exhibits a tight focus and a nuance to its structure and execution that CoF would go on to hone to exhaustive degrees on later records, but also manages to feel like a Cradle of Filth release at its core- the outfit's essence already solidified in a patchwork of blood and black velvet. The instrumentation is consistently tight and diverse, with Paul Allender's guitarwork a notable standout in the vicious soundscape. Whilst the underproduced nature of the experience and the comparatively (slightly) underdeveloped songwriting will undoubtedly dissuade some, the material here nevertheless serves as an impressive mission statement for a band with a vision that they were keen to develop. The compositions are fine examples of metal songwriting, and although they may play fast-and-loose with conventional black metal stylistics on occasion, they always demonstrate a precise, individual focus and grand songwriting style that is consistently evolving and entertaining, shaking free from the homogeneity that sometimes comes with the genre. It grinds and shrieks with the abrasion of a well-oiled machine and manages to give distinctive punch to an archetypical black metal sound. Venomous and cavernous, with a palpable dynamism dancing behind the distortion and assorted murkiness, this is CoF bolting off the starting blocks like a bat out of hell and not looking back.