Cradle of Filth is most notorious for bringing respectability to the Norwegian black metal template, the band threatening to actually make the genre enjoyable, thanks to acceptable production values and an admirable songwriting ethic mostly absent among the early reptilian belchings croaked forth from dank Norse basements -- and Cradle is British to boot. Utilizing flowery classical flourishes, tangible melodies, nimble death/thrash riffing, a coherent -- albeit crushing -- rhythmic battery, and the deranged, multifaceted caterwaul of vocalist Dani Davey, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh brought a musical sensibility to the black metal table that was absent in early genre releases by Emperor, Enslaved, and Mayhem. Boasting a blatant goth influence -- i.e., lengthy keyboard intros, intermittent operatic female vocals, and Davey's black 'n' blood take on romantic poetry (in meter even!) -- and slightly tongue-in-cheek vampire and occult imagery, Cradle came across as a lean combination of key influences, including Venom, Iron Maiden, Bathory, Possessed, Celtic Frost, and Slayer, all spot-welded to the miscreant clatterings of Norway's finest. While "The Black Goddess Rises," "To Eve the Art of Witchcraft," and "The Forest Whispers My Name" are undeniably classic Cradle ragers, Principle, in retrospect, doesn't quite live up to the quality control exhibited on later records, the album leaving plenty of room for the group to grow into its studded S&M gear. Too often, Davey's vocals are reduced to generic death-puking or heavy-handed, Tom Warrior-style monotone narration, and the spiky guitar riffs of the title track and "A Crescendo of Passion Bleeding" are relatively primitive by CoF standards. Regardless, Principle made waves in the early black metal scene, putting Cradle of Filth on the tips of metalheads' tongues, whether in praise of the band's brazen attempts to break the black metal mold, or in derision for its "commercialization" of an underground phenomenon that was proud of its grimy heritage -- commercialization being a relative term within the genre's confines (the "sellouts" used professional studios, while the torch-bearers for "true black metal" apparently preferred to use the single-microphone-hung-from-the-garage-rafters recording method). A strong argument can be made that Norwegian acts, all viable artists in their own right, would have evolved into more coherent and inspired outfits regardless of Cradle's influence on the scene, but these zany Brits deserve credit for realizing how tight the genre's shackles could be, choosing to reach for more creatively satisfying vistas instead of clinging to the cave-dweller-banging-on-rocks method of black metal songwriting.
AllMusic Review by John Serba