If ever there were a subject for England's Cradle of Filth to tackle, it's the life of notorious French mass murderer (and celebrated war hero companion of Joan of Arc) Gilles de Rais. If you haven't heard of him, don't be surprised. After he was hanged in 1440, his name was stricken from the official records of history by French authorities. His crimes? Too numerous too mention here, but the worst of them involved the murder and rape of hundreds of children. Late in his life, French national library boss, critic, and novelist Georges Bataille wrote a complete book on the trial of this figure. De Rais was Sadeian before the Marquis de Sade ever existed (indeed, he may have been an inspiration for some of the characters in The 120 Days of Sodom). This album is a lengthy examination of the mind and biography of de Rais -- nobleman, aristocrat, devout Christian, war hero, and societal icon by day, by night an insane Satan-worshipping gore hound and purveyor of slaughter and blood sacrifice. On the surface it seems that it might be an ideal topic for a death metal record by the outrageously theatrical Cradle of Filth, led by head growler and screecher Dani Filth. It even begins well with the classical interlude "In Grandeur and Frankincense Devilment Stirs," with the spoken word poem of the character. But this is quickly wiped away by "Shat Out of Hell," whereby the listener is engaged by the utterly frenetic power drumming and über fast death metal guitar and bass riffery behind the simultaneously Cookie Monster growled and shrieked vocals of Filth. This may the only track on the record that offers a rather negative view of his crimes, and is the most musically compelling thing here. Beginning with the very next cut, however, the nascent "The Death of Love," near prog rock conceptual theater takes precedence over rock & roll fury. There are moments of unholy metal charge and scree, but there are more with plodding keyboards, large choirs, rote metallic clichés, Gothic-sounding themes, minor-key riffs, and thunderous drums giving way to a heavily layered production style that removes any real fright from the proceedings. In the end, the entire set comes across as an exercise in caricature of this shadowy historical figure through pretentious operatic theater and a clumsy boring narrative. By rights, this should be anything but. The obsession Cradle of Filth have with post-production is the very thing that removes the power from this set and makes it more of a wry -- and unintentionally comedic -- piece and impossible to take seriously.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek