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Monday 18th December 2006
The Academy in Birmingham, UK
Previous to this evening, I'd only heard a couple of Deathstars tracks and remember not being overly impressed. However, with the Swedish band featuring former Dissection drummer Ole Ohman and guitarist Emil Nodtveidt (brother of recently deceased Dissection frontman, Jon Nodtveidt), I'd always been intrigued to give them a further listen, and tonight presented me with the perfect opportunity to do so. It transpired to be a bizarre start to the evening. As I stand in the photopit awaiting the band's appearance on stage, a security guard draws my attention towards a large pile of vomit that a fan has kindly deposited over the barrier on the floor just behind me. Next, atmospheric intro music is played through the PA speakers as most of the band take to the stage and as it finishes....nothing. Band members exchange confused glances with each other and don't start playing but, instead, leave the stage! Suspecting some sort of technical glitch, I say to another security guy "I wonder what's going on here" and he informs me that "their singer was totally pissed earlier - he had to be carried back from town by some girls". Things weren't looking good although five minutes later, the intro music is played for the second time, and Deathstars appear on stage again - this time with the vocalist!

Probably best loosely described as industrial goth metal, Deathstars' music reminds me of a cross between Sisters of Mercy and Rammstein. Although their songs don't grab me emotionally, they deliver a solid, tight and polished performance and are clearly popular with the Academy audience. So much so that when vocalist Whiplasher (real name - Andreas Bergh) asks "How many of you want to have sex with me?", a large number of both male and female audience members scream out "YES!". Overall, Deathstars are a good fun band but, musically, aren't to my taste.
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2006 has been a fine year for the metal community - at least in terms of unexpected reunions. With both Emperor and Atheist reformations and the promise of Cynic's imminent return next year, perhaps the biggest, and best, surprise of all was the announcement only a few weeks prior to tonight that the original 'Dreamweaver' recording lineup of Sabbat would reunite for 3 UK dates supporting Cradle of Filth. Apparently, while mixing COF's latest studio album, 'Thornography', original Sabbat guitarist Andy Sneap agreed to a reunion through both Dani Filth's persuasive skills and a lot of alcohol. I was a fan of the band back in 1989 just after the release of 'Dreamweaver' though never managed to catch them live so this news was most welcome. There was, of course, a reunion of sorts between 2001-2003 which lasted for several shows that vocalist Martin Walkyier respectfully proclaimed to be a 'tribute' band in the guise of 'Return to the Sabbat' and also included original bassist Fraser Craske and, for a short while, guitarist Simon Jones. I made the most of this 'reunion' and, in total, saw Return to the Sabbat 5 times with the firm belief this would be my only chance, and the closest thing, to seeing Sabbat live, not conceiving for one instant that a few years on would engender a fully reformed band. This seemed even more unlikely with Walkyier publicly announcing a year or so ago of his intentions to 'retire' from music to concentrate on writing prose after his latest innovative project, The Clan Destined, came to an unfortunately abrupt end resulting from the precipitous walkout from most band members and their subsequent unfair treatment of him. He did, however, complete and release The Clan Destined recordings with the assistance of Sneap's production and guitar talents. I guess this new Walkyier/Sneap collaboration stirred my optimism for a potential Sabbat reunion back then, though didn't think seriously for one second it would materialise into reality. I'm sure I speak for many when I say that the 'Dreamweaver' era lineup back together again, playing live, is a momentous event.

The lights dim, fans begin chanting "Sa-bbat, Sa-bbat" and the band walk on stage to huge cheers and applause as the intro music from 'History Of A Time To Come' fills the Academy with its menacing tones and polyphonic voices. They then launch into 'A Cautionary Tale' followed by 'Hosanna in Excelsis'. What is immediately striking about these songs is how contemporary they sound, even 18 years after their initial release. This is not only a testament to Sneap's songwriting skills as a composer of timeless music, but also a sign of the far reaching influence Sabbat had and still have on metal bands playing on the scene today. With a set drawn mainly from 'History...' including 'Behind the Crooked Cross' and 'For Those Who Died', they also air 'The Best of Enemies' from 'Dreamweaver'. Sabbat look very comfortable on stage together and collectively deliver an energetically dynamic performance through Sneap and Jones' technically accomplished guitar riffing and skilful leads; Craske's pounding basslines; Simon Negus' impressively tight drumming and Walkyier's rasping vocals delivered with his usual passionate intent. In fact, when Walkyier speaks to the audience in between songs, it is evident he's suffering with a bad cold and on the verge of losing his voice which makes it even more astonishing, and certainly admirable, that he still delivers a vocal performance as intensely vociferous as this. Tonight, he indubitably lives up to his reputation as a true pagan metal hero. As good as the 'Return to the Sabbat' gigs were, tonight I witness the 'return of the Sabbat' which is mindblowingly awesome. And with the planned reissues of both 'History...' and 'Dreamweaver' early next year and the promise of some festival dates, it aint over yet...
In recent years, Cradle of Filth have had an ongoing love/hate relationship with the media and metal fans alike. I guess this is symptomatic of their huge success but they've always managed to sustain a large global fanbase covering a wide array of ages. Judging by the youthful appearance of a large number of audience members tonight (who probably hadn't even discovered metal when 'The Principle of Evil Made Flesh' was first released back in 1994, let alone heard of Cradle), the band are still able to attract a lot of new fans. Further, considering the large number of lineup changes COF have been susceptible to over the years, it is commendable they manage to perpetuate the essence of the band which is largely thanks to, and mediated through, Dani Filth's darkly prevalent aesthetic vision.

As the intro music from latest release, 'Thornography', is played through the PA - the wonderfully titled 'Under Pregnant Skies She Comes Alive Like Miss Leviathan' - the band appear on stage to deafening cheers and screams from a clearly excited crowd. They open with the first 2 songs from 'Thornography', 'Dirge Inferno' and 'Tonight In Flames'. The latter is a varied composition and marks a genuine stylistic progression for COF with some elementary, though efficacious, palm-muted thrash riffing, a catchy chorus underpinned by captivating twin guitar harmonies, and even a rare guitar solo. Next up is 'Dusk and Her Embrace', title track from their 1996 release, then 'Her Ghost In the Fog' from 2000's 'Midian'. This juxtaposition of old/new songs is indicative of the strong back catalogue of material Cradle are able to draw from. 'Ebony Dressed For Sunset' which segues, as it does on 'Vempire', into 'The Forest Whispers My Name', sounds as good tonight as it ever has. There's the predictable airing of 'Nymphetamine' which fits comfortably into the set with its more mid-paced, melodic leanings and new song 'I Am The Thorn' also impresses. It is also pleasing to hear 'Rise Of The Pentagram', the instrumental track from 'Thornography' which begins with provocatively scripted verse narrated by Doug Bradley and it's a composition which epitomises Cradle's new found diversity with their latest release. The set ends with their inventive cover of Heaven 17's 'Temptation' which, for me, works better live than it does recorded and the epic sounding 'Under Huntress Moon' which is also from 'Thornography'. After 'Temptation', Dani Filth exercises his characteristic 'wit' by quipping at the crowd - "You can cheer. We might be from Ipswich, but we haven't killed any prossies". There's also the obligatory encore including both 'Gilded C*nt' and set favourite 'From the Cradle To Enslave'.

Tonight, Cradle of Filth deliver an excellent performance and look very comfortable as a band on stage. Having outlived, and progressed beyond, the ephemera of their black metal roots, they have less to prove these days and are axiomatically both at ease with, and enjoying, their huge popularity. While their stage set is visually impressive, gone are the angle grinders and other gimmicks that have characterised many of their shows in recent years. And to be honest Cradle's music, both new and old, is strong enough to carry the set without any added gimmickry. Their performance is also flawless - Dani Filth personifies the archetypal metal frontman with his tirelessly energetic stage presence, strong vocal performance and entertaining banter while bassist Dave Pybus and guitarists Paul Allender and Charles Hedger deliver equally dynamic, strong performances. New drummer, Martin Škaroupka, who was brought in as a replacement for recently departed Adrian Erlandsson, is a much better musician and more animated performer than the latter. His high-powered drumming lends the songs more impact in the live context than with Erlandsson as sticksman - let's hope he's here to stay! My only minor criticism of Cradle's entire performance is a slightly weak snare sound which, although at the right level in the mix, is lacking in bite. Overall though, and in short, Cradle of Filth are stunning tonight.
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