Damnation and a Monday Night
Cradle of Filth and Akercocke at the London Astoria, 16 April 2003
by: Jackie Smit
With Cradle of Filth touring hot on the heels of their highly touted and self proclaimed coup de grace, I must admit to being a tad shocked upon my arrival at the Astoria some two hours before the doors are set to open: there was already a queue well out-stretching what even Slayer could manage here little less than a year ago. Indeed, if you were to ask virtually anyone among the black-clad mass waiting to enter the venue who the better of the two are, they'd probably not hesitate to shriek "Cradle" at the top of their pubescent lungs. Kids these days.

Unfortunately, the evening kicks off with the monumentally disappointing news that Immolation -- who were previously scheduled to provide support -- will not be performing, as they apparently "have the evening off". Even more disappointingly this gives South Yorkshire's ambassadors of Beelzebub, Akercocke, even more time to peddle their brand of unimaginative black/death metal. Now, I have to be honest here -- I have never liked these guys. In my opinion they are pretentious and unoriginal in the extreme and it is only rarely during the course of their half an hour plus set that they manage to even slightly challenge my perception. In all fairness though, this could also be due to the sound gremlins which do hamper their set quite badly, as well as showing no favours to the headliners later on. After running through a set list that comprises material from both their forthcoming and previous records, the true highlight of Akercocke's performance remains their vocalist's cringingly cheesy (yet funny in a Tankard-sort of way) pre-song rant: "We hear you London and when we hear you HE hears you!". I'm sure that this isn't exactly what they're aiming for, but the last time I laughed so hard was when Seinfeld was still a regular on terrestrial television.

By their own admission, it is amazing to think just how far Cradle of Filth have come. From being the little-known Suffolk contribution to pseudo Satanic black metal and clearing out many a small-town make-up supply store of its black eyeliner and white face powder, to the Sony-powered fashion accessory they are now -- hell, even one of the simpletons from Good Charlotte was sporting a CoF shirt in a magazine not so long ago. Their shock ascension is hit home especially hard by the very impressive stage rig that glares at the audience (think Rammstein on a -much- smaller scale) and the dual flanking video screens that show scenes from the much maligned movie "Cradle of Fear", while roadies frantically ready the band's equipment. Of course when the black-clad sextet slither their way on to the stage, the audience's response is unsurprisingly rapturous, but from the outset something feels wrong. It may be that the video screens are now displaying the album covers from whence each currently performed song is pulled, coming across in many ways as black metal infomercial. Or it may be Dani's incessant macho posturing -- not a convincing sight when you're five foot nothing and thin as a rake. The real problem though is the sloppiness of the band's performance. While material from their latest _Damnation and a Day_ is tightly played and sounds acceptable, albeit coming off an album which was underwhelming to say the least, anything predating this comes across as being performed by a mediocre cover band at best. Even during straightforward songs like "From the Cradle to Enslave" the band members -- especially the drummer -- drop out of sync and on more than one occasion during "The Forest Whispers My Name" can a rather heavy hint of bewilderment be detected on the faces of the two guitarists.

Closing off with "Queen of Winter, Throned", Cradle of Filth leave the Astoria with an air of disappointment. This is hardly the return to the battlefield everyone was hoping for, and in as many ways as Dani Filth's antics reminded me of Axl Rose during the course of the evening, I can't help but thinking that perhaps I have just witnessed the birth of black metal's answer to Guns 'n' Roses. And I'd hate to sound negative, but I can't see them easily proving me wrong.

(article submitted 18/5/2003)

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