Oh, what a surprise it was to get to do a piece on the re-release of Norwegian black metal legends Mortem’s Slow Death! A huge thank you to Peaceville for deciding to throw this one back out there in a two-disc set containing the original recordings along with some of the demos. Included in the release is the original 1989 booklet with an extended band history and some awesome rare images. I am actually finding it kind of hard to pick a place to begin!
Total Fucking Darkness transcended the role a demo normally plays, achieving near-legendary status in the murky underground of the early 90s. To celebrate its official release some 21 years later, original Cradle of Filth guitarist Paul Ryan spoke to Ghost Cult.
In the beginning Cradle of Filth was a death metal band. But, just like no good story ever starts with drinking tea, so no good story really starts at the beginning. It usually gets going a little while after that. For Cradle of Filth, one of Britain’s most successful metal exports, things really started to pick up pace 18 months into their existence with the dawn of their third demo tape, Total Fucking Darkness. Affectionately known as ‘TFD’, it showcased a band moving beyond a juvenile but enthusiastic love of Autopsy et al into one embracing black metal influences that were to go on and define their sound, and a young, hungry band undergoing metamorphosis into something special.
Yet, TFD was the unplanned child. It wasn’t supposed to happen…
“We were looking at signing to a label called Tombstone” begins Ryan, “and we went into a studio to record the Goetia album, but the label didn’t want to pay for it. Unfortunately at the time, tape was very expensive and we were all from working-class backgrounds and none of us could afford to pay for it, so the studio wiped the tapes.”
Such a crushing blow would have derailed many a young band, but instead destiny intervened and the group were now heading down their own left hand path… “We had a situation, but we weren’t going to give up” the guitarist confirms. The break that Cradle were dealt was that it allowed a new influx of influences to infiltrate the bands’ sound away from the public eye. “At the time there was such a rich vein of music and new influences kicking around, it was a transition for a lot of people going from death metal into the second wave of black metal. Even though bands like Bathory and Celtic Frost are lumped in with black metal, it was all very separated at the time. It was more looked upon as weird European thrash, it wasn’t called black metal then.”
But black metal was making its’ mark on the hungry band from South East England and tracks like the creeping, atmospheric, Hammer Horror tinged Gothic masterpiece ‘The Black Goddess Rises’, still a classic and fan favourite to this day, were born and found their way onto TFD.
“The second wave of black metal that was coming in, we were starting to listen to it. Burzum, demos that you’d pick up through tape trading, Immortal and Darkthrone, and that became a real influence on us, Emperor, in particular. And then when we played with Emperor that opened our mind up to a lot of that stuff. It wasn’t as contrived as ‘we’ve got to do this or that’, it just felt like the right thing to do. And it fun was to put that mask on and go out and play shows and have people looking at you like they didn’t know what the fuck was going on. That was exciting.”
UNBRIDLED AT DUSK
The reason I’m sat in a car after a The King Is Blind (Paul Ryan’s new band) rehearsal with Paul, talking about the events of some 21+years ago, is because as part of the acknowledgement of the 20th anniversary of their essential and classic debut The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh, serendipitously Cradle mainman Dani Filth and the guitarist who departed the band less than a year after the release of Principle… came together, and a conversation led to them pulling together a reissue of the demo that, essentially, spawned the beast that Cradle became.
“There’s a little bit of self-indulgence with it (the TFD reissue), but we were aware there was some interest from the old school Cradle fans that they wanted to see some of the earlier material, but we did it because we wanted to do it. Dan and I hadn’t spoken to each other really, outside of bumping into each other at festivals, for 16 years. Then, by chance, we end up having a meal together, catching up, talking a lot about old times and when a mutual friend of ours, (Frater Nihil of Mordgrimm Records, who originally signed the band to Cacophonous for the debut), found out we were hanging out again he suggested the idea of sticking the demo out as he had the master.”
Rather than just reissuing the original 5 tracks, the ball was rolling with impetus to put out something that would really interest Cradle fans, old and new.
“Dan went up in his loft, and I went round me Mum’s and went up in her loft and we literally sat down at the table and between the 3 of us we had quite the horde of old pictures and tapes. And when we sat down with the tapes one of the things that we managed to find was the first track on this release, which was ‘Spattered In Faeces’. The only existing song from the Goetia album was a tape copy that had sat in a shoebox up in Dani’s loft for literally 20 years!
So, what else (quite literally) ended up on the table? “We found a really good rehearsal which had ‘Devil Mayfair’ on it, which was a track that didn’t make it onto ‘TFD’. The intro to ‘Unbridled…’, that sort of backwards intro, is actually that song reversed, but the proper recording of that was lost as well. We also found some keyboard tracks that weren’t used that went on to be used on both ‘Principle…’ and ‘Dusk…’ that my brother (Ben, former Cradle keyboard player) did. So, all in all, we have a good mixture of stuff of interest for anyone that gives a shit about stuff from around that time.
“We’ve still got stuff from the first 2 demos, there’s still loads of stuff kicking around” responds the affable Ryan when asked what else was uncovered once the treasure trove had been unlocked. “With the interest that this has had, we fully plan at looking at the first 2 demos.” I mentioned before that no good story starts right at the beginning. That’s because the beginning is always a story in its’ own right. These days, there’s always a prequel…. “We’ll probably look at doing the first two demos together, as it’s a separate period for the band. TFD’s relevant in respect of the fact it’s the 20th anniversary of The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh this year and all the stuff on TFD was the prequel to that album. It’s a bit more its’ own entity than the first two demos, which are much more Death metal. Together I’m sure they’ll make a very interesting release with some of the other stuff we’ve got for it.”
The option to explore more of the unreleased very early material is made easier due the exceptional response to the TFD reissue. Has the level of response taken you and Dan by surprise? “Very much so. We did it initially because we thought it would be a cool thing to do, and we wanted to do it as a collectors thing, but the interest has just snowballed. The pre-sales for it were really good. Initially we wanted to do 666, and if we sold them, great, and if we didn’t then we’d sell them over time, but it’s far surpassed that, and it’s turned into a different beast really.
“We did 666 double-vinyls – there’s 222 each of 3 different splatter combinations.” With exceptional artwork from occult painter (and Radio DJ) Daniel P Carter to boot, TFD could be called “Total Fucking Package”… “We also did a limited box set of 66 copies which sold out within an hour when we stuck them online, which is great, and there’s a retail blue vinyl edition and a CD digipack. It’s also on digital, I think iTunes have stuck it out now.”
FRATERNALLY YOURS, 666
While our conversation started off covering the start of the rise of Cradle, it turns to the end of Paul’s (first) journey with the band. Shortly after an absolutely vicious and near legendary headline show at the prestigious Marquee Club, London, back in 1995, where the tension on stage crackled and was palpable even out in the crowd, Paul, along with half the band, and Cradle parted ways.
How was it meeting up with Dani again? “Yeah, it was really cool. We had bumped into each other on festival fields and locations around Europe over the last 10 years or so with me working as a booking agent, and it had always been very amicable. But that was the first time we’d had a proper chat. It was good. It was just like old times, really. I think, being a bit older, you kind of look back on these things with a much more rounded view. They’ve obviously gone on to have a lot of success, and I’ve been very fortunate with my career as a booking agent (Paul’s roster of bands includes, amongst others, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine, In Flames, Lamb of God, Amon Amarth and Bring Me The Horizon), so we had a lot to talk about.”
With the departure of yourself, your brother and Paul Allender (who subsequently rejoined the band in 2000 before leaving again in April this year) after Principle…, how does it feel looking back now? Any awkwardness or bitterness? “It’s interesting, when you’re younger you don’t think of things in long-term factors, you don’t think of the consequences of it, you just do what you think is right. And when we left and did The Blood Divine we were quite happy to just go in a different direction, and we weren’t really paying any attention to anything that was going on with them any more than they were with us.
“To be fair, if I hadn’t stayed working in music and hadn’t had the career that I’ve had and been very successful doing it, I might feel very differently about it. But I’ve had my career off the back of being in that band and it’s helped me a great deal. The foresight and insight it gave me was invaluable. Being older and having benefited from it, I can’t look back and not have anything but very warm feelings about it, to be honest.”
“I do want to thank the people who’ve been interested in this, and hope they enjoy it as much as I have. It’s been a really rewarding experience, to be honest.”
Total Fucking Darkness is out now via Mordgrimm