Review: “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” By Cradle Of Filth (Album)

Note: I prepare these articles quite far in advance. So, this title illustration was made before I reviewed Judas Priest’s latest album about a month and a half ago.

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a heavy metal album that I’d meant to get over seven years ago but only finally got round to buying a while before I wrote this review. I am, of course talking about “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” by Cradle Of Filth.

This album by the venerable heavy metal/ symphonic black metal/ gothic metal band was originally released in late 2010. I actually remember this quite well since the band took the unusual step of giving out free MP3 copies of the song “Lilith Immaculate” on their website at the time.

This track really bowled me over, although I couldn’t afford to get the full album at the time. I then pretty much forgot about the album (apart from checking out another couple of songs on Youtube) until I noticed that it had come down in price and was able to snap up a second-hand copy on Amazon for about three quid.

One of the first things that I will say about this album is that it is very much it’s own distinctive thing. It mostly eschews the grandiose fire and brimstone drama of 2008’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder“, but it is also a far cry from the decadent De Sade-ian opulence of 2012’s “The Manticore And Other Horrors“. This album is a lot “colder”, more melodic and more gothic. And, it is probably one of the best Cradle albums that I’ve heard. Seriously, it’s almost up there with classic albums like “Cruelty And The Beast” and “Nymphetamine”.

“Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” is a concept album about the mythological character Lilith. However, it also focuses on a tragic character called Victoria Varco, a 14th century noblewoman who bears an illegitimate child and suffers unspeakable cruelties at the hands of the church because of this. This eventually leads to her having visions of Lilith (and possibly being possessed by Lilith’s spirit), before being brutally murdered by the church’s torturers.

She is then exhumed by her grief-stricken lover, Isaac, in a scene vaguely reminiscent of Heathcliff and Cathy from Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights“. The later parts of the album focus both on Lilith herself and on Isaac’s memories of meeting her through Victoria.

The final song ends with a mildly Lovecraftian flutter, with Isaac saying: “…These words I speak are gates to hell“, evoking the ‘last words’ narrative device used in many of H.P. Lovecraft‘s short stories. In addition to this, it is also a repetition of an early verse from the first song on the album. This gives the album an intriguingly circular storyline, which also hints strongly at a Lovecraft-style unreliable narrator.

And, yes, this album actually has a continuous story. However, this actually harms the album’s lyrics very slightly. Whilst I’ve written before about how Cradle Of Filth songs are basically old-school poetry in disguise, the lyrics in “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” often read more like a historical ballad of some kind.

Whilst the lyrics still contain a fair number of poetic flourishes (eg: “By flights of morbid fancy/ Psychomancy, rites of ancient wrong”), the focus on storytelling means that the lyrics are often a little bit more “functional” and can occasionally lack some of the dark eloquence of Cradle’s other albums.

But, enough literary criticism. What about how this album actually sounds?

Well, for the most part, it sounds like Cradle Of Filth. However, unlike some of their albums, this one has quite a few melodic elements, such as a vaguely harpsichord-like segment at the beginning of the first song in addition to other creepily gothic string and keyboard segments throughout the album. These go really well with the more intense guitar segments, which often sound more like a “heavier” version of traditional heavy metal. Personally, I really love all of these melodic elements, but more “traditionalist” fans of the band might not like them.

Likewise, despite the occasional well-placed death growl from Dani Filth, his fast-paced and guttural singing in this album is considerably more understandable than in some previous albums. As much as I love Dani’s older vocal style, his more modern style certainly has merit too.

Plus, like in many of Cradle’s albums, Dani’s harsh vocals are counterpointed by more elegant female vocals. In “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa”, these are provided by Lucy Atkins (and Dora Kemp).

Like with some of Sarah Jezebel Deva’s vocal segments in “Cruelty And The Beast”, Atkins speaks rather than sings. This lends the character of Lilith a stern, cold gravitas that goes really well with Dani’s more emotional vocals.

The best songs on the album are probably “The Persecution Song”, “Deceiving Eyes”, “Lilith Immaculate”, “Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)” and “Beyond Eleventh Hour”.

“The Persecution Song” begins with a beautifully haunting instrumental segment, which manages to be both creepily cold and reminiscent of the warm lushness of Cradle’s “Nymphetamine” album. Dani’s vocals near the beginning of the song are noticeably slower too, which helps to add to the oppressively gothic atmosphere.

Musically, the song is dark, intense and overwhelmingly powerful. Vocally, Dani alternates between several singing styles (eg: slower singing, emotional growling, ominous whispering etc..) which helps to add to the surprising array of musical variety within this song. Seriously, it is one of the most atmospheric songs on the album.

“Deceiving Eyes” has some really intriguing hints of both thrash metal and traditional heavy metal. Although it is mostly just a fairly solid Cradle Of Filth song, these extra musical elements really help to turn it into something a bit more distinctive.

“Lilith Immaculate” is a fast, powerful, opulent and intense song. The opening instrumental is vaguely reminiscent of something from “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder”, but, as soon as Dani begins howling, you’ll remember that this is a very different album. This song is something of a duet between Dani Filth and Lucy Atkins, and it is brilliant! It is filled with dramatic descriptions and powerful emotion. If it wasn’t for the fact that this song tells a later part of the album’s story, it would have been a perfect opening song.

“Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)” is a slightly lighter, faster and more “goth”-like song. The opening segments of it are something of a palate cleanser from the heavier and more intense songs earlier in the album. Likewise, the guitars sound a little bit less distorted here, which lends the song a very distinctive sound. Like with “Lilith Immaculate”, it is also something of a duet between Dani Filth and Lucy Atkins – which is always cool to hear.

“Beyond Eleventh Hour” is the stunningly opulent ending to the album. It begins in a creepily understated way, with quiet keyboard music and some poetic vocals from Atkins. But, it quickly builds to a spectacularly dramatic climax soon after Atkins intones the words “…and hell will come with him”.

The lyrics in this intense and dramatic song also contain a few gloriously obscene “classic Cradle Of Filth”-style flourishes too. This song is Cradle at their most eloquent, poetic, debauched, blasphemous best! At one point, there’s even some vaguely horror movie-style cackling in the background too πŸ™‚

All in all, “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” is one of Cradle Of Filth’s best albums. It’s a cold, heavily atmospheric, furiously intense and creepily gothic album. Yes, it isn’t quite their best album in purely lyrical terms but – musically – it is absolutely stunning. Like with all great metal bands, this album manages to be both the kind of unique thing that only one band could make whilst also being noticeably different from both previous and subsequent albums.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

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One Constructive Way To Deal With Artistic Jealousy – A Ramble

Although I’ve written about the subject of artistic jealousy before, I found myself in a situation where my usual techniques for dealing with it (eg: remembering that there is always someone better and someone worse at art then you, taking inspiration from better artists etc…) didn’t quite work. So, I shall begin with the woeful tale of how this all began, before I descibe how I was able to return to normal.

Basically, I happened to watch a documentary on TV about a better and more sucessful artist and then, shortly afterwards, I happened to see some amazing photo-based digital paintings online. And, somehow, all of this filled me with pointless artistic jealousy.

Needless to say, my artistic confidence was running low. My unique cartoonish art style seemed primitive and childish in comparison to the art in the documentary that I’d seen on TV. My imagination, of which I am so proud, felt second-rate in comparison to the better artist I’d found who was much more at ease with making art directly based on other things (likewise, the fact that a series of studies of out-of-copyright historical paintings I’ve prepared for some of next month’s art posts look better than my original art also made me feel that my imagination was inferior too).

Eventually, a while later, I prepared my next digitally-edited painting for one of next month’s daily art posts. On an ordinary day, I’d have considered it to be a good painting. But, on that night, I felt like it was a mediocre, second-rate painting that was only less worse than I’d originally feared it would have been. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 11th May.

Still, the next day, I’d got over all of these emotions. But, how did I do it?

I distracted myself from them, whilst also reminding myself why I’m an artist.

In my situation, this involved listening to Cradle Of Filth’s “From The Cradle To Enslave” EP. Not only is the music on this CD brilliantly intense and cathartic, but it is also a mixture of original and less original work. The first two tracks are new original songs from the band, the middle two tracks are covers of songs from other bands and the final two tracks (on the UK edition at least) are remixes/re-recordings of the band’s older stuff.

This reminded me of the fact that whilst making non-original stuff can be a good way to make things when you aren’t inspired, to show off your unique style and to pay tribute to things you think are cool – it’s also ok to focus on original stuff too. In fact, the two original tracks on the EP are – by far- the best two tracks. These songs open the EP with a passion and energy that the other songs lack slightly. So, it also reminded me that original stuff can be better.

At the same time, I also made a point of watching the notorious uncensored music video for “From The Cradle To Enslave” on Youtube too. This is a music video that shows a lot of creativity and skill. It is a music video that only Cradle Of Filth could have made. It is such a brilliant expression of everything that the band are – such as the gloomy gothic locations, the dark humour, the low budget horror movie-style scenes, the decadent debauchery etc… And it reminded me what art is truly about. It’s about self-expression and making things that both you and other people think are cool.

Ok, you probably aren’t a Cradle Of Filth fan. But, your own equivalent to this can be very useful if you are racked by strong feelings of artistic jealousy. Find an original creative work that you really like and remind yourself that it is so interesting because the people who made it did their own thing. That they took inspiration from the people they admired and produced great things that are also unique.

Or, if that doesn’t work, just distract yourself with the creative work in question until the feelings of artistic inadequacy/jealousy begin to subside. This can work too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Reasons Why Physical Media Is Awesome

Although there are certainly a lot of things to be said for digital media (for starters, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I actually had to publish it as a physical magazine), I thought that I’d talk about physical media today.

This is mostly because, I definately prefer certain things on physical media (eg: paperback novels, DVD boxsets etc..). Physical media is absolutely awesome for a whole host of reasons. Here are a few of them:

1) Discovering random signed things: One of the cool things about physical media is that writers, musicians etc.. can actually sign it. What this means is that sometimes you can end up inadvertently buying a signed copy of something new or second-hand. Yes, it doesn’t happen that often, but it can certainly happen.

My most recent experience of this happened the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. This was mostly because I ended up finding my CD copy of Cradle Of Filth’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” after feeling slightly nostalgic about the album.

I’d bought it in Aberystwyth during the late ’00s and I wanted to relive my memories of that time. Since the album was new at the time (and I was a little wealthier then), I ended up getting the special edition version.

Whilst the discs were still fine, my present-day self was annoyed that the special edition has some rather flimsy cardboard packaging. However, I soon stopped being annoyed when I tilted the back of the sleeve slightly and noticed a small signature in black ink against the dark brown cardboard. Somehow, I’d never noticed this before! Ok, I couldn’t work out if it was an actual signed copy or whether the signature had just been printed on the sleeve, but it was a really cool surprise nonetheless.

Here’s a close-up, featuring the signature in question. It’s a little hard to see, but I’m still not sure if it is actually a “proper” signature or whether it was just printed onto the CD cover.

But, my coolest memory of accidentally finding a signed copy was when I bought an old second-hand copy of Shaun Hutson‘s “Victims” from a market stall in Truro during a holiday in Cornwall when I was a teenager. When I opened it a while later, the first thing that greeted me was none other than the signature of my favourite author at the time! Needless to say, I was amazed!

Seriously, seeing THIS for the first time was such a cool moment! Although, annoyingly, it seemed like such a cool thing that I didn’t dare to sully this precious object by actually reading the novel. Still, this is something you can’t experience with e-books.

Amusingly, a few years later, I later found several signed hardback copies of one of Hutson’s books (“Twisted Souls”, I think) in the bargain bin of a sadly-defunct bookshop in Aberystwyth called Galloways. At first, I’d just bought one copy but, as soon as I learnt that it was signed, I made the decision to trudge back into town the next day to buy the other copies of it in the bargain bin (I can’t remember if I followed through with this or not, but I bought at least one extra copy of it. Alas, it is lost amongst my piles of books though).

But, yes, this is an experience which you can only really have with physical media.

2) Second-hand stuff (is awesome for so many reasons!): This is a fairly obvious one, but you can actually buy second-hand copies of physical media. Yes, sites that sell digital goods will occasionally reduce the prices of older things and occasionally have sales, but it isn’t really quite the same.

For starters, there’s something wonderfully democratic about second-hand copies of things. Yes, you can’t keep up to date with everything if you mostly buy second-hand copies, but the fact that you can buy decent quantities of books, DVDs etc… at sensible prices is absolutely brilliant if you are on a budget. It’s what has allowed me to build up a fairly decent DVD library these days and to build up a decent collection of novels when I was younger.

Secondly, although I mostly order second-hand things online these days, one cool thing about second-hand stuff was the experience of actually visiting the shops that sell it – whether that was dedicated second-hand shops or just charity shops. These places are awesome for so many reasons. Not only do second-hand bookshops have really cool “old”/ “non-corporate” atmosphere to them, but they are also places where serendipity can happen.

What I mean by this is that you have no way of knowing what they do or don’t stock. And, in the pre-smartphone age (or the present day if you avoid these irritating gadgets like the plague), if you found a book that you’d never heard of before then you had to judge whether it would be any good by looking at the cover and reading the first few pages. And, since the prices were fairly sensible, there was more of an incentive to take a chance on unknown authors. Yes, sometimes this didn’t work out, but sometimes it did. Of course, on the internet (where you have to actively search for specific things), it is a lot more difficult to have an experience like this.

Thirdly, there’s the historical element of it. Even though I only really “discovered” second-hand books during my teenage years during the 2000s, I got quite the education in 1980s-90s horror novels, 1950s-60s science fiction novels etc… for the simple reason that these cool historical relics were cheaply available in second-hand and charity shops.

Finally, second-hand copies (and physical media in general) are awesome because they put the consumer in control! To give you an example, it isn’t exactly unheard of for companies to remotely delete e-books from people’s e-readers (yes, the news report is almost a decade old and this sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but it’s still creepy that they can do it in the first place). So, physical media ensures that the consumer is in control, as they should be!

3) Cover Art: Although I only really even began to get serious about being an artist in 2012, I’d already had much more of an art education than I knew. This was, of course, all thanks to physical media. Or, more specifically, cover art.

Yes, digital media will sometimes try to include “cover art” by including digital image files. But, having physical copies is also kind of like owning a collection of art prints too. Seriously, cover art is one of the most under-appreciated types of art out there!

Not only that, thanks to my preference for second-hand and/or slightly older things, I got to see a lot of cover art from the 1980s and 1990s. And, wow, people certainly knew how to make good cover art back then! To give you an example, here’s the cover art for the 1989 UK paperback edition of Clive Barker’s “Cabal“:

Seriously, the cover art for this paperback edition of “Cabal” could almost be a movie poster! Not only does this cover art make effective use of high-contrast lighting, but it also uses a complementary orange/blue colour scheme too.

In fact, one of the major parts of my art style can be directly attributed to cover art. Virtually all of my art uses high-contrast lighting (my rule is that 30-50% of the total surface area of each of my paintings has to be covered with black paint), and it looks a bit like this:

“Metallic Magic” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

And this is a direct result of seeing numerous horror novel covers, heavy metal album covers, VHS/DVD covers etc… over the years. Although I couldn’t name that many famous artists when I was younger, my artistic tastes and sensibilites were already being unknowingly moulded and shaped by physical media.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Why Listening To Cradle Of Filth Can Help You Write Better Poetry

2015 Artwork Cradle Of Filth and poetry article sketch

Although this is an article about writing poetry, I’m going to have to start by talking about one of my favourite metal bands – namely the one and only Cradle Of Filth [NSFW]– for quite a while. Trust me, there’s a good reason for this and I’m not just rambling about music just for the sake of it.

If you’ve never heard a Cradle Of Filth song before, I should point out that their music is something of an acquired taste. Because of Dani Filth’s extremely guttural vocal style, it can take a while to even work out exactly what he’s singing – so it can be useful to keep a copy of the lyrics nearby until you can understand his singing properly.

Also, be prepared for a shock occasionally. When I first discovered this band, I remember absolutely loving one of the catchier songs on their “Midian” album until I happened to actually read the lyrics for it and notice that it was basically an extremely disturbing song narrated from the gleeful perspective of an unrepentant serial killer.

In case you haven’t guessed already, one of the brilliant things about Cradle Of Filth is that virtually all of their songs are about some kind of dark, disturbing and/or debauched subject matter. In fact, a Cradle Of Filth album isn’t a Cradle Of Filth album unless it contains at least two orgies, a few old Anglo-Saxon words for genitalia, something vaguely vampiric and at least a few gruesome deaths.

But, there’s a lot more to Cradle Of Filth than just puerile shock value. No, the reason that I’m talking about them here is because they are one of the best sources of poetic inspiration and poetry teaching that I’ve ever found.

In fact, I’d argue that listening to their songs (or listening to well-written rap music, if heavy metal isn’t your thing) can be a great way to learn how to write better poetry.

Although Cradle Of Filth’s songs may be about some fairly shocking subject matter, they elevate this to the level of art by writing and singing about it in a way that would put most famous Victorian poets to shame. Yes, underneath the screeched vocals, there is actually a lot of fairly old-school poetry!

Seriously, the lyric booklets that come with their albums could easily double up as short poetry collections. If you don’t believe me, then here are a few lines from one of their songs about Elizabeth BΓ‘thory called ‘Desire In Violent Overture’: “An emanation of phantom madness/ The Countess beheld in shroud/ By girls bereft of future vows/ Soon to wed in white the frosted ground“.

But, how is any of this relevant to us as poets?

Well, when we’re writing poetry, it can be easy to forget that poetry was originally meant to be read aloud. As I’ve mentioned at least once before, one of the best ways to tell if your poem is any good or not is to read it aloud.

After all, the main reason why poets add things like rhymes, iambic pentameter, carefully-placed line breaks etc… to their poems is because they sound good.

As such, listening to a lot of well-written poetry that has been set to music can be a great way to learn how a poem should sound and to learn how to write poetry that sounds good.

Again, if heavy metal isn’t your favourite genre, then there are plenty of rap songs out there that will also teach you how to write good poetry. After all, rap music is basically just poetry set to music.

So, remember that it can help to listen to songs that have poetic lyrics when you’re learning how to write poetry (or if you just want to improve your own poetry).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

See Your Poetry As Motion

2013 Artwork Poetry Motion Sketch

Although I only write poetry very occasionally, it’s definately something which I enjoy writing. The interesting thing was that I only really got into writing poetry a few years ago when I really found my own narrative voice for poetry. Strangely, this is fairly different to my narrative voice for prose fiction and non-fiction writing and it’s all to do with how I see poetry.

(Ok, I’m going to try to describe my imagination and creative processes here – so it’s going to get quite abstract and subjective. It’s an eccentric article about writing poetry. I hope that it makes sense, but even if it doesn’t – then it’ll certainly sound dramatic. Maybe even poetic….)

For me, poetry is motion. By this, I mean that it isn’t a distilled meditation on a single moment in life or a neat semantic game (although it sometimes is one of these two things) – it is motion. It is visceral, intense, vivid, visual motion.

It’s like drinking three shots of vodka in three seconds, it’s like a machinegun in an action movie, it’s a freefall from the stratosphere, it’s la petit mort, it’s a fast game of badminton, it’s a Pulp Fiction adrenaline shot to the heart, it’s medieval flagellent monk catharsis, it’s a toboggan ride down Mount Everest, it’s a strobe light in a nightclub, it’s the best heavy metal music turned up to eleven, it’s your soul shouting furiously at the top of it’s voice, it’s furious lightning on a summer night, it’s a swashbuckling cutlass fight on the deck of a pirate ship, it’s shouting the truth from the rooftops at midnight…. and it’s a lot of hyperbolic metaphors and similies.

In short, I don’t write poetry that often, but when I do, it’s usually a pretty intense experience. And it’s usually all down to seeing poetry as motion.

Very descriptive. But what does this have to do with actually writing poetry?

Yes, I got a bit carried away there. But, when it comes to writing poetry, you should get carried away.

At it’s best, poetry should flow through your mind faster than you can even write it down or even think of the right way to make all of it rhyme. It should be a series of rapid-fire emotions, extremely vivid mental images, deeply meaningful personal metaphors and trickster-dancing-spontaneous-rhymes.

Poetry isn’t something which you should sit back from and write at a distance, it’s something which you should dive headfirst into without a parachute. It’s something which should build up inside you until it explodes onto the page in a creative frenzy.

You’re lapsing into more descriptions, very predictably…..

Ok, in purely mechanical terms, one of the best ways to add motion and energy to your poetry is to write it in the present tense. Seriously, this is about the only way that I can write even vaguely decent poetry. This is a a fairly rare narrative style in prose fiction (and with good reason, it’s surprisingly difficult/counter-intuitive to write and can be annoying to read too if it’s done badly) but it is absolutely perfect for poetry.

When you write your poems in the present tense, you are both immersing yourself in your poem (after all, it’s happening right now) and you are also immersing your readers in your poem too.

The fact is that, with writing in the present tense, there is no distance between the words and the imagination.

If your poem is written in the past tense, then it is more like a memory or a reminiscence. It’s like someone else describing something which has happened a long time ago in a distant land.

In short, what works in prose fiction doesn’t always work in poetry. If you want to write vivid poetry, then write it in the present tense and avoid the past tense like the plague.

What about rhymes? Do I need a rhyming dictionary?

Ah, “to rhyme or not to rhyme ?”, that is the question. As for the answer, it’s simple – rhyme when it feels best to do so and don’t rhyme when it feels contrived or forced. When it’s done well, a good rhyme scheme for your poem can really make it move a lot faster and give every line a real punch. When it’s done badly, it sounds really really contrived and it can slow your poem down.

However, I’ll let you in on a secret – rhyming is something which you can learn how to do. You don’t need a rhyming dictionary (and taking the time to consult a book in the middle of writing a poem can really break up it’s rhythm. Save the dictionary for editing your poem after you’ve written it) – you just need to think of your poem in a more musical way and listen to a lot of rhyme-based music until you get an almost intuitive sense of how to rhyme.

In terms of rhyme-based music to listen to – rap music is always worth listening too (such as “Written In The Stars” by Tinie Tempah or anything by Eminem [apart from his more narrow-minded earlier songs] ). Seriously, most rap music is basically just poetry set to music.

If you’re into heavy metal, then anything by Cradle of Filth is worth listening to, since they have a very darkly poetic sensibility and most of their lyrics are practically works of classic literature [ok, probably a combination of Lord Byron and the Maquis De Sade, but still….]. One example of an especially poetic song by Cradle of Filth is “For Your Vulgar Delectation” – although it certainly isn’t for the easily-offended and it’s fairly NSFW, you have been warned.

Or, if you want to listen to something less intense, but just as well-written – then I’d reccomend anything by Suzanne Vega (such as “99.9F”)

Basically, when you have a good sense of rhyme – rhymes will either come to you spontaneously (like they’re the next logical step) or, if you’re stuck for a rhyme, then your thought processes will probably look like computer hacking in a movie. In other words, you’ll find hundreds of possible rhyming words flashing quickly through your mind until the one that fits lights up and you can move on to the next line of the poem.

…And that’s all there is to it, really?

No, not really. In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface.