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October 14, 2010

Gospel of Filth: A Bible of Decadence and Darkness review

Metalheads Who Read

gospel of filth

Gospel of Filth: a Bible of Decadence and Debauchery

Love them or hate them, Cradle of Filth were arguably one of the first bands to define a specific sound for English extreme metal. For nearly twenty years now, the band have been producing their extreme blend of decadence and debauchery, mixing the tropes of gothic literature, horror films, real-life serial killers, occultism and ancient mythology with the musical juxtaposition of classical scales and black metal blastbeats.

Cradle of Filth retain a “special” place in the land of metal, equally revered and reviled for their tenuous link to the Gothic subculture, and of course, their success has earned them scorn as “sell-outs”/ The latest project of infamous frontman Dani was a collaboration with writer Gavin Baddeley. Fab press sent me a copy of the Gospel of Filth to review earlier in the year, and I regret that I am a hopelessly slow reader and haven’t managed to finish reading it until just last week.

Port O’ Call: The Gospel of Filth: A Bible of Decadence and Darkness, by Gavin Baddeley, with Dani Filth

Mateys: Gavin Baddely, an occult expert, ordained priest in the Church of Satan (I’m not sure which specific one) and general all-round bad-ass dude. Gavin appears as an occult authority for the BBC, Channel 4, and even at Cambridge University. He’s also written Lucifer Rising (1999), Dissecting Marilyn Manson (2000) and Goth Chic (2002). And we all know who Dani Filth is.

Premise: Basically, if you could take my own “Metal History” posts, and compiled them into a book with lots of wicked pictures, that’s what the Gospel of Filth is. Each chapter focuses on a different Cradle album, and traces the influences and subject matter through time and space. The band and music act as a sort of loose “plot”, tying the seemingly endless array of dark tangents into a sort-of cohesive whole.

In the Gospel of Filth, you’ll find a little about everything that could possibly interest you – the Decadent era, German serial killers, famous composers, witchcraft trials and some of the most innovative, reviled and feared musicians, writers, poets, and film-makers in history. As you can see, it took me months to finish because I’ve been trying to absorb it all.

Why it’s Krieg: Gavin Baddely is a fucking awesome writer. No bones – it’s the truth. If you read this book, you will not be disappointed. You will read three pages a night and learn a hundred facts about gruesome, magical, awesome stuff. Gavin has the narrative skill and astute, dry humor to bring all these facts together in a way that doesn’t seem overwhelming or boring.

Other reviewers don’t agree with me, and find his prose clunky pretentious, and repetitive. I disagree. There is pretentiousness here, but I think it’s tempered by a dark humor which might not come through for some people. While some might find the prose repetitive (certain themes are repeated in multiple chapters, for example) I think it’s a deliberate technique to revisit common themes and help the reader grapple with the interconnectivity of the book’s multiple subjects. I wasn’t expecting much from this book and was very, very surprised.

Gavin begins by successfully rooting Cradle of Filth firmly in “time” and “place”, showing how their English heritage and their removal from the Scandinavian scene has resulted in their unique sound. They are a distinctly English band, something I’d never contemplated before until I read this book.

He’s also done a great job of tying Cradle of Filth into the wider metal scene. The opening chapters focus on the band’s influences, fans, critics and legacy. These chapters alone make for fascinating reading amongst the music-journalists amongst us.

And then there are just the mountains of stuff I simply DID NOT KNOW. When you read this book, you need to keep a pen and paper beside you to write down the list of movies you have to see, books you have to read, songs you have to hear and nefarious persons you have to research. The Gospel of Filth provided the opening snippets to many of my past (and future) metal history articles.

And, what’s great about this book from a marketing POV (and Dani Filth is nothing if not an astute businessman) is that you don’t have to be a Cradle of Filth fan to appreciate it.

Why it’s Emo: If you are a cradle fan, you will love every page of this book.

However, I’m not a big Cradle fan. I wish I were, because the subjects they write about fascinate me. But I’ve always struggled to get into the music, and I saw them live in London in 2006 and they were very meh. Technically proficient, but mechanical, like it was just another day at the office. And once I watched some “behind-the-scenes” footage of their on-tour “antics” which looked stupidly staged and hackney, and that really put me off.

So, for me, at times the book seems OTT pretentious. At times, Baddeley tries to show links between his awesome stories of wild and crazy historical events and figures and the band. These come off as tenuous at the best of times, and downright silly at the worst. Its subtitle should be “How everything in the entire world exists so Cradle of Filth could write a song about it.”

The thing about Cradle of Filth is, you have no idea if they take all this stuff seriously, or if it’s all a little tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes I think it’s one, and then I just don’t know. The book is completely pretentious – you can’t get around that – but it’s also brilliant and quite hilarious. I just have no idea which they were aiming for.

The book is very heavy, which, if you’re blind and have to balance it on the end of your nose, is an important consideration. And the worst thing for me was I felt some of the design decisions were poorly executed. Even a fully-sighted person would struggle to read the white-on-black cursive font used for Dani’s sidebar columns. But as I’m legally-blind, I couldn’t read them at all. This may, in fact, be a good thing, but I would have liked to judge for myself.

Quote:

“I used to be very serious about the occult, sitting on the other side of the fence to the one I scratch my arse on now. As I’ve hit my thirties and now bedecked with family, I find myself exploring everything in life a little more vividly and with so much on one’s (often busy and bloodstained) hands, there just isn’t the time to indulge fully in the daily labors of magic and mind-play. I see myself as more of a Van Helsing-type character now, an obsessed vampiric good guy with inside information on the dark. Possibly with a cape. Haven’t decided.” Dani Filth.

Rating: \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ if Cradle and Baddeley take themselves waaaaaay too seriously, and \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ if they’re having a good laugh while writing an awesome book.

One Comment on “Gospel of Filth: A Bible of Decadence and Darkness review

ElvisShotJFK
November 23, 2010 at 1:33 am

I think it’s a mix of both seriousness and having fun.

I’ve long been a fan of CoF (first heard them when I was in high school, listened to Vempire and Dusk… And Her Embrace over and over again when I was in Germany back in ’96-97) and still enjoy them to this day. I haven’t had a chance to see them live, but even if I don’t get to add that to the list of things I do, I’ll live.

The thing about them and some of their peers, they’ve been willing to adapt over the years and embrace the idea of success. Yes, they may put on a cheesy front (maybe deliberately), but they’ve put out fairly solid material over the years. They aren’t foolish enough to continue to say they’re a black metal band. They emerged from that cocoon a long time ago.

While they may have taken some liberties with some of their material (in particular with their concept albums), Dani’s no idiot. And from what I’ve heard, a really nice guy to hang around with. Like some others, he has two personas, one the frontman for Cradle Of Filth. That comes with certain expectations, but I would imagine that when he’s at home with his wife and daughter, he lives a fairly normal life. Which is probably why he’s been able to keep going for this long.

As for the Gospel Of Filth, I haven’t gotten around to reading it. Or even getting a copy. It’s been on my list of things to try to get around to, but you know… shit happens.

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