2021 has been one hell of a year for Suffolk metal goths Cradle Of Filth (pun intended) – they returned with a vengeance at Bloodstock Festival, announced a line of action figures and comics, recruited a new keyboard player and vocalist -Anabelle, and on top of that released a full-length masterpiece with Existence Is Futile. We caught up with guitarist Richard Shaw to talk about the new album, horror influences, Kanye West wearing their merch,nu-metal, their image, Primark metal merch, and their involvement with Ed Sheeran.
So firstly, I have to ask: are you looking forward to performing again after such a long time without a gig?
Very much so. It’s been like 21 months since we’ve played in front of an audience so We’re all very much chomping at the bit!
Existence Is Futile, is out now. This was something put together in lockdown – how did it all come together?
It’s funny because we wrote it all and did all the demos before COVID was a thing. We were aiming to release it by the end of 2020, and as I’m recording guitar parts – lockdown in the UK was announced. At the time I thought: ‘Oh okay, this will be a couple of weeks and obviously that wasn’t the case. So we couldn’t get our other guitar player and bassist into the country to record their parts. Dani [Filth] was recording vocals, and we were doing drum and my guitar parts. It almost gave us time to think about it and change things around…
(At this point Dani Filth appears and makes a bizarre noise as he shuffles past)
Speak of the devil..! Yeah, it gave us time to think about if this is the best version of the album it could really be. If anything it was a bit of a blessing giving us more time to tweak those bits that we thought ‘Yeah, it’s good… but now we can make it great’.
Is that the reason this is a much longer album at 14 tracks?
Yeah, it is a long one but Cradle have always had fairly long albums. It’s one of those things where we had all those songs beforehand, but then they got fleshed out even more. We felt we needed to put them all on there. It would seem unfair to take some off – so we made it a longer album. Just two of them are bonus tracks (laughs). Even then I don’t see them as “bonus tracks” because they’re as good as the rest of the album. But you’ve got to have them. So we fleshed them out a bit more still. They just so happen not to fit on the “standard” version of the album.
One of these “bonus tracks” is called ‘Sisters In The Mist’, which is part of a series – why do you think it’s right to continue this story now?
That’s something you’d need to ask Dani! It was one of those things musically, I wrote the start of that song when we had a day off in Finland in 2019 and I went on to Glasgow to work with our bassists Daniel and we musically finished the song together. As Dani started doing his vocal demos for it, he messaged us to say this is turning into Sisters part 3, I was like, oh really? so it became one of those things where we said, musically we can tie it in with the end of the song and make it a little bit more obvious but have it a standalone song. We got really excited that this would then fit in with a Cradle staple and the third part in the trilogy, which I don’t think, even Dani saw coming, he just started writing lyrics and it fits perfectly with that storyline.
You’ve again had a guest appearance from actor Doug Bradley (Hellraiser) was it always your intention to bring him back?
We knew we needed a voice and we thought, is it predictable to have Doug back? But it’s the perfect voice for the narrative for the track that he’s on and we listened to the song and we knew that we’d got the perfect voice that sums up what’s going on in the song at that point. Also as a fan, it’s pretty cool, to have written a song with Doug Bradley on it, I was freaking out.
You said it was a perfect sound, do you think the horror movie feel goes well with the album?
Definitely, with Dani’s lyrical matter being about, existence is futile pretty much sums it up. It’s almost like, what is mankind doing to help each other and help the planet? We’re just slowly sitting idle watching the destruction of everything, and then ironically the Pandemic happened and all these things were happening so we’re thinking about, how do we treat our fellow man? So Doug Bradley’s narration on this particular track, just really hammers the point home, from his voice it sounds even more foreboding and bleaker so it fits in with the Cradle aesthetic.
It’s like reality is stranger than fiction…
Yeah, it was one of those weird things, it was lyrically, written before the Pandemic but as Dani was recording during the Pandemic we thought how can this not affect the vocal performance? He was tweaking verses here and there as the theme became more and more fitting. It was all very eerie, that it was written before and it was almost prophetic.
You’ve got a good team together, the album was produced by Scott Atkins (Vader, Benediction, Venom Prison), he was the right call for the album?
Yeah absolutely, Scott’s worked with a Cradle a lot now, he technically worked on Godspeed and Devils Thunder, but the first album he worked on properly, from the ground up was Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa, and he’s sort of been with us ever since, he’s local to Dani so it’s easy for Dani to work with him from a practical point of view, but also he seems like the perfect producer for this, he’s a guitarist himself and with our last few albums being a bit more guitar-driven he knows about tone and playing, he just knows how to get good performances out of us and make it all sonically sound amazing.
You mentioned Scott is local to Dani, was it a ‘who’s available’ situation or was it always Scott you wanted?
The whole time I’ve been in the band, we’ve always worked with Scott, they’ve known each other for years and it’s just one of those things that Scott’s studio is relatively close to Dani’s home. It’s nice for Dani because he doesn’t need to feel like he needs to record for eight or nine hours and make the most of the time when he’s there, only living down the road he can come in, record for two or three hours then go back home meaning he’s always on his A-Game.
What do you think is Cradle’s secret, with the thirtieth anniversary being this year?
I think the secret is just, don’t stop! It’s like when someone asks, how are you married for so long, well… don’t get divorced, that’s the secret! (laughing). As weird as it sounds, I think it’s a similar thing with Cradle, we just keep going and Dani genuinely loves what he does and he doesn’t want to stop and we don’t want to stop, we want to keep going as long as we are physically able and while there is still an audience there we don’t see ourselves stopping. It’s almost like a happy accident that it’s reached thirty years and I’m sure it doesn’t feel that way for Dani.
In those thirty years, the band has had changes, you’ve been with the band since 2014, and this is the first album with Anabelle (Keyboards) on, is fitting in well with the dynamic?
Oh Definitely, and today is her first live show with the band (Bloodstock) other than the live stream (May 2021) which wasn’t in front of an audience, so this is her first live show with an audience and she’s going to be ace! She’s been in the band about a year and a half, that’s the weird thing, she joined the band before Covid and it’s only now her first show. She was very hands-on with the writing of the album, she came and in and was like, cool I’m in the band what do I do? We wanted to get to writing some songs and literally within a week she had six or seven ideas and we were like, what the hell, this is amazing! She felt so comfortable that she could come in and contribute with some ideas and we worked them into songs so she’s all over the album, even the choirs on the album, it’s not a choir, it’s her… she’s doing the female parts and Jon Phipps is doing the male parts. They layered up all the choir parts so that’s not actually a choir it’s Anabelle she is just stupidly talented.
So writing is a collaborative process?
Everyone collaborates, it’s a great thing with Cradle, there are six people in the band six people who write, and it’s always been that way, so get the ball rolling musically, it will be me, Ashok (guitar), Daniel (Bass) and Martin (drums), and now Anabelle, we’ll come up with some ideas, and think, what kind of song do we want to do? and Dani is very hands-on at that stage as well, even though he doesn’t play an instrument, he knows what he likes the sound of and what excites him. He’s also very hands-on with the arrangement, he’ll be like ‘That’s really, cool, let’s make that twice as long…’ or ‘I like that, but can we tweak it? Make this a little more evil or twisted or chaotic?’ He’s very good with his words, so he’ll take it down different routes and nine times out of ten, what he hears (internally) makes sense and when we get it, it just works and we’re like, ‘Ah, I see what he was getting at!’, this then gives birth to his lyrical ideas, it’s very cool to work with a singer like that.
Does that translate to the videos as well? Do you bring ideas or does the director handle that?
I’m not very involved with the video side of things but from what I gather, it’s Dani and the directors, they will brainstorm what they want to do. What’s the lyrical matter? What does Dani see happening? but the director also has a vision otherwise, there is no point in having a director, you want to go ‘That’s cool, now let’s take it further, this is the cinematic and technical possibilities we can look at. So it’s a brainstorm and then we trust the director to take it from there, so on King Crawling Chaos, the director, (Vicente Cordero) pulled it off very very well.
That’s the one I was thinking of, it was a bit different, a bit more Hammer horror than American horror?
Yeah, and that’s the thing, even though Vincente is from L.A, I think he gets that kind of UK, Hammer horror thing? It works well, it’s not overly “Hollywood” It’s got that hint of authenticity to it, everything you see on there is practical effects and I think that’s what you mean with the Hammer horror style as back then they only had practical effects. It’s very cool when you have someone who gets that, when someone is like, ‘We can do all this with CG!’ you’re like that’s cool but is it necessary or are we just blowing a lot of money for no reason? So Vincente gets it and he’s a very cool director to work with.
I tend to agree, if you use up to date CG, it can almost look quite dated right away…
It really can! I mean not to mention certain videos from Cradle’s back catalogue but you look back on some and you think, that’s dated! but there is kind of a charm about it as well, it’s not all negative what I say about CG, it can have character and charm to it but I agree with you, it can become quite dated because technology is evolving all the time, whereas practical effects, yes they evolve, but I don’t think they look dated for that reason.
So going back to longevity, do you think Cradle belong to a certain category? You’ve changed a lot over the years, Do you feel you still fit a certain genre?
It is weird, everyone asks me the question “What genre do Cradle fit in?” and I still just see it as metal, it’s almost like, and I’ve always seen Cradle like this, it’s like Cradle is the best of metal? That sounds really pretentious when I put it like that and I don’t mean it like “We’re the best band ever” I mean it’s almost got all the ingredients of any kind of metal you can think of, I mean there are even little bits of Power Metal in Cradle, there’s Symphonic Metal, there’s classic metal, there’s Thrash Metal, you think of any kind of metal and there’s a little bit of it in there. So I just call us a metal band and then let the fans argue about the sub-genre from there!
Looking back on the press from about twenty years ago saying you were Nu-Metal, certainly not!
Yeah! (laughing) I think Nu-Metal was just something they called any metal that was popular around the early 2000s. I can see Cradle getting lumped in with that but it’s the same way they called Slipknot Nu-Metal, I don’t really see it but it just came out and that point and got lumped in with it, they happen to have a DJ, so it must be Nu-Metal! It’s not as cut and dry as that, that’s why I always find the metal sub-genre argument kind of hilarious, there is no right answer yet everyone feels the need to argue about it but I suppose that’s what people who are passionate about music do?
I’ve got to ask, the press has kind of latched onto Cradle recently because Ed Shereen said he used to be a Cradle fan, what’s your opinion on that one?
I think it’s amazing because I’m actually a guitar teacher as well and I do lots of other stuff than playing Cradle of Filth in terms of playing the guitar, and I’ve taught Ed Sheeran’s stuff for years and you can tell in his songs that he’s a much better guitar player than he lets on. He’s a great songwriter, I just think it’s incredible, and I find it weird that there are some, not all, but a small minority of metal fans that are very outspoken saying things like of course, it’s just trendy for these artists to say they’re into all these bands or it’s just someone else hopping on the bandwagon because metal is popular now. It’s like, no, I believe them when they say they were fans just because you make a certain style of music doesn’t mean you can only listen to that style of music. I don’t listen to Cradle style bands all day every day, that would get really boring you know? I think everyone should like what they like and be quite unapologetic about it, so I think it’s brilliant and if anything it can bring new fans to Cradle, people thinking, I’ll check out that Cradle of Filth band, Ed Sheeran mentioned them and all of a sudden their whole world turns upside down because they’ve never heard anything like it and they may find they quite like it, you never know and Cradle could be one of those gateway bands like we were for a lot of people years ago. I think we all need those gateway bands and artists in other genres to highlight there is some good stuff going on, so I only see it as a positive.
It’s not just Ed Sheeran, obviously, Kayne wore a Cradle shirt that one time…
Yeah and Billie Ellish is wearing all kinds of stuff so it’s not a bad thing, one of the biggest artists around, or a few of the biggest artists around at the moment just mention a name, that can’t hurt. I think only a few people that do get butthurt about it are some metal fans which I find strange, but that’s just my take on it.
Nobody hates metal like metal fans!
It is odd with metal, I love metal fans to bits but some of them, not all of them, thankfully it’s a very small minority but some are very loud and seem themselves as gatekeepers of the metal community, like, “We don’t allow these people in!” and I’m like what? why? I’ve never understood that mentality. I get it when people are like, you like Slipknot, you’re a sellout, and I’m thinking what? Why can’t I like Slipknot and Merciful Fate? Why is it exclusive to what’s popular and what’s “true metal”? Who decides true metal? That’s what I find really funny.
Yeah, I’ve never understood the mentality, if you take a look at my battle jacket, it’s got every sub-genre of metal on there somewhere, people ask what’s the theme of your jacket? It’s just the bands I like…
That’s a very good theme to have! Probably the best theme to have, it’s like when people have a band (shirt) with a logo that no one can make out, and it’s well what is it? and they say ‘I don’t know but it looks cool, but they’ll happily slag off someone who brought a Slayer t-shirt from Primark, it’s then like, they’re just doing the same thing but with more obscure bands. ‘Do you actually like that band?’ ‘Well yeah, but I have to prove how metal I am with the most obscure band ever, I can’t read their logo therefore they must be good!’ I find that a bit odd as well.
Back to your album and the song ‘Suffer our Dominion’ which feels like your most politically driven song? Was this because of the time and place or did it just come naturally?
That’s another one I think lyrically was finished before Covid, Dani over the last few years has been much more outspoken about things that he doesn’t agree with, I don’t know if that’s an age thing (laughs) or if he just felt the time was right. Without shoving it down people’s throats he’s starting to focus on things like climate change, for me, this is a standout track on the album lyrically, to sum up, existence is futile and asking what is man doing to each other and the planet, is what we’re doing sustainable? breeding hate upon hate.
So going forward, is this something we can expect more of from you?
I really don’t know, even Dani keeps us guessing, we write the music and he writes the lyrics and that’s totally his domain and I get excited whenever he sends another vocal demo through or sends us the lyrics, it’s like, where’s he going on this one? It was very clear on Existence is Futile before we even had the title, he was leaning towards that theme, there was something he wanted to get off his chest and he got it off his chest on this album.
So what can we expect next from Cradle?
We’re actually writing a follow up to Existence is Futile and we’ve been doing that all year, so we’ve got quite a few songs written for that already musically, vocally, I’m not sure but Dani’s got ideas brewing away that he is finalising and we’re still working on it, tweaking it in the same way we did Existence is Futile, we just write as many songs as possible within the time frame and then we tweak and tweak and create different versions of them ready for release, so hopefully it won’t be another four years before we release the next album because we’ve already got half of it written!
Sooner rather than later…
Cradle Of Filth’s new album Existence Is Futile is available now via physical formats and by streaming on all platforms. Check back for future news on the band.
Special thanks to Jay Brown for his work on editing this interview.
Special thanks also to Claire from Nuclear Blast for granting us this interview.
All photos by Ash Crowson.