VERSUS: Enthrone Darkness Triumphant vs. Cruelty and The Beast
Welcome to another edition of Versus, the series where we look at two albums in metal history and compare them to each other and see which one was the better record.
In this edition, we are dipping our toes back into the dark and murky waters of black metal with two symphonic black metal bands. Each band releasing what some fans and critics would call their best records, and both are good introductions to new fans trying to get into the bands themselves. Let’s see who comes out the winner in this battle I’m calling “The Battle in The Orchestra Pit”
In this corner, we have Norway’s Dimmu Borgir with their third record; 1997’s Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. Their major label debut with Nuclear Blast, the band’s level of production improved with a much cleaner sound and style, with vocalist Shagrath going with a lower and more gravelly vocal delivery on this record that would continue throughout the band’s career. With this release, the band’s music reached a larger audience, and with critics and fans placing them in the upper echelon of symphonic black metal bands like their fellow countrymates Emperor. This would also be the band’s first release singing in English, compared to their two previous releases, 1995’s For All Tid and 1996’s Stormblåst, which were sung in their native tongue. Let’s take a listen to see what Dimmu brings to the table with this record.
The album opens with “Mourning Palace,” a synth-laced string section sets the stage before the guitars kick in with classic black metal guitar tone and playing with a better production compared to the previous releases. Shagrath’s vocals are strong and out front in the mix. The song has a second wave of black metal guitar playing to it and opens the album with a good opening track. The following track “Spellbound (By the Devil)” has great opening drums with booming tom hits and opening choirs before continuing the black metal fury Dimmu delivers. I love the organ playing going into the blast beats section and the synth break three quarters of the way through. Shagrath’s vocals still has elements of his high vocal screams on this track, which shows he hasn’t fully transitioned to an all gravely vocal delivery.
The first standout track for me on the album is “In Death’s Embrace.” I love the strings and keys in addition to the double kicks in the intro. Guitar playing is fast paced, almost giving off a Venom style riff with the drumming. When the vocals kick in, we get a galloping heavy metal style guitar riff which sounds so good and heavy on the song. Then, with a slowed down tempo change to accent the guitars is a nice transition. Double bass starts to pick up in a major way halfway through the song. The pace picks up even faster on the bridge ending the song with a short guitar solo, that even though is a tiny bit muffled in the mix, still sounds good and closes the song out strong. Songs like "Relinquishment of Spirit and Flesh" and "The Night Masquerade" continue the trend of dungeon-synth style keyboard playing and effect laden intros before kicking into blaring black metal with harsh shrieks and furious blast beats.
The other standout track for me is "Tormentor of Christian Souls." A Dimmu classic, the band is firing on all cylinders and maybe for me, the song with the best production on the album. Starting off with intense blast beats, the tremolo style guitar playing continues with another first wave black metal sounding riff. The choir matching the guitar playing after the first verse makes you want to bang your head along with it. The slowed down drums section over the double bass going hard, and tempo changed guitar, then boosts into a faster pace at the three quarters mark ending the song strong, and is definitely a great song and my personal favorite track off the album. "Master of Disharmony" and "Prudence's Fall" also are good strong symphonic laden songs that continue to make the band's sound their own and creating the trademark the band would be known for today.
Their opponents; England’s Cradle of Filth with their third album, 1998’s Cruelty and The Beast. A concept album based on the legend of Hungarian Countess and mass murderer Elizabeth Bathory, the band would increase the bands instrumentation, adding more gothic elements to their version of black metal. With choirs and synthesized strings, blending with the impressive drumming of Nicholas Barker, matched with the dynamic vocal delivery by Dani Filth, would create one of the best albums in the band’s discography. Though the band admits now that the production is not the best on this record, (they would remix and remaster the entire album with 2019’s Cruelty and the Beast: Re-Mistressed), the record still stands as the band’s best.
The instrumental opener "Once Upon Atrocity" sets an ominous and eerie setting to the record. Almost giving off the feel of a scene in a horror movie before we kick off the album with "Thirteen Autumns and A Widow". With synth vocals and strings, Dani Filth's trademark shriek layered with gutturals start the song off with a punch. Barker's drums do sound very buried and are not mixed very well on this track and throughout the album, but his playing is still impressive and is a standout on the record. With the clean singing of female vocalist Sarah Jezebel Diva adding dynamic delivery and representing the voice of the infamous countess, its a nice reprieve to Dani's goblin shrieking and glass shattering highs.
The standout track for me is "Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids" on this album. I love the opening female vocal delivery with so much reverb, almost giving a call to war atmosphere/feel to it. I can picture the crowd reciting it back when the band perform it live. Dani's glass-shattering shriek starts the track off with amazing guitar playing and matching drums adding to the intensity and ferocity of the track. The synth mid-tempo change gives the listener some reprieve before going right back into the fury and vocal dynamics Dani brings and really shines on the track. "Beneath The Howling Stars" continues the gothic-tinged black metal sound that Cradle of Filth become known for. Dani's vocal juggling of shrieks, whispering vampire laden talking sections, death metal gutturals and his legendary high pitched shrieking is the trademark of the band, and is impressive to hear on this track as well as other songs like "The Twisted Nails of Faith" and "Desire in Violent Overture." Deva's delivery and role of the countess is superb in her delivery, giving the character a feel of pompousness and realness in her delivery of the lyrics.
The album's epic eleven minute long piece "Bathory Aria" starts with a beautiful, but simple piano piece, infused with Dani's whispering vocals with building guitars into a beautiful amalgamation of orchestral strings and lead guitars. Barker's double bass adds a pulsing intensity to the song. The entire track has such a grand scale to it and with each part bringing new elements and storytelling along with the gothic elements and performance from the entire band. The album ends strong with the closing track "Lustmord and Wargasm (The Lick of Carnivorous Winds)." Continuing the band's tendency of tempo juggling and Dani's classic vocal performance with the band bringing this dark and brooding record to a fitting close.
So after all is said and done, which one is the better record? In my opinion, Dimmu's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant is the winner. Triumphant is a stronger record. The band captures the symphonic black metal sound better with the production, instrumentation and the overall feel of the genre. Cradle of Filth's Cruelty and The Beast is still a good record and I do consider it the band's best release, but the production does hurt the record a lot. Barker is such an amazing drummer and to bury it in the record is such a bad decision. Vocals can also be mixed weird as well. The remixed version of the record really shows how great the record truly is, but even with the remastered version, I would still go with Triumphant. I do agree that these are both great intro records for these bands if you want to check them out on a first listen, and both bands have consistent good records after these releases and you won't be disappointed with either band.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.