Cradle of Filth are undoubtedly an English institution. Despite their revolving door policy on band members, Captain Dani Filth has steered his creation through two decades of dark and murky music, stopping only to piss off the BBC and write a book in the meantime. Now, regardless of the nationalities of past and present band members, the music that Cradle creates is unmistakably British. British in tone, lyrical content and ultimately in promotion. British, British, British.

So, can someone please explain why they haven’t graced our shores for a full tour since 2007? It’s not for lack of releases, that’s for sure. Two triumphant albums (2008’s Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunderand 2010’s Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa) and two questionable EP’s have passed, so one could be forgiven for thinking their homeland had been forgotten. 2008 brought about a European ‘Filth Fest’ tour which saw Cradle share the stage with Gorgoroth, Moonspell and Septic flesh, but a short headline slot in December is hardly anything to rave about. Saying that, my personal experiences of the UK’s dalliance with Filth Fest are largely clouded by the ingestion of unholy amounts of vodka. Merry Christmas indeed. And Bloodstock 2009? A gobstopper the size of a snowball swiftly cut that set short.
So here we are, 2012. Filth-less while the rest of the world (especially North America, you lucky buggers) is bathed in the stuff. But thankfully, like manna from heaven, we are granted one singular date. A Wacken warm-up show in the dark, spooky depths of…um…Cambridge.

While Cradle’s black metal credentials are all but gone, this was not the case of fellow Ipswich chaps, Eastern Front. Covered in corpsepaint and possessing gurns so grim that they looked they were passing a kidney stone, they certainly looked the part. Musically, while they were very standard, both in execution and content, they did possess a certain amount of charm. While I find a lot of modern black metal uninteresting and dirge-like, they managed to hold my interest with some incredibly captivating guitar work and some fast, unfaltering drums. Despite all this, with songs based solely around 1940’s war efforts and stage names including terms as ‘holocaust’, I found them to dance between stereotypically laughable and naively offensive. However, this may just be an example of my personal preferences interpreting aesthetic choices in a different manner to the way they were intended.

Cue an overly-long darkened stage and some classic Cradle intro music, and then those filthy beasts took to the stage.

To their credit, their setlist proved to be a pretty accurate representation of their entire back catalogue. With oldies such as Ebony Dressed for Sunset and Funeral in Carpathia set against newer offerings like Thank Your Lucky Scars, it worked well and every track was performed with the same professionalism and passion that originally bore them. Also, more vocally challenging tracks such as Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids were performed incredibly well by Dani Filth, which proved to be quite a pleasant surprise considering the inevitable wear and tear his vocal chords have undergone through over a decade’s worth of screaming. Guitarists Paul Allendar and James McIlroy proved to be so adept at their instruments that the very act of watching them felt like a great privilege, and this coupled with their effortless charisma and practised stage personas, I soon felt as though I was no longer watching human beings. Drummer Martin Skaroupka and new bassist Dan Firth (not confusing at all) followed suit and performed effortlessly and mesmeric ally throughout. While Dan Firth certainly impressed with his first official outing in Cradle, it was such a shame to say goodbye to Dave Pybus; a firm fan favourite and incredibly talented musician.

Crowd pleasers such as Guilded Cunt and From The Cradle to Enslave just about brought the venue to its knees with the sheer ferocity of the audience’s reaction, yet newer songs such as Lilith Immaculate and Honey and Sulphur were met with a somewhat flat response. Cradle of Filth’s audience has undeniably changed over the years; the fans that drenched themselves in corpsepaint in 1994 seemed to dwindle by the time 2004’s Nymphetamine appeared, and now we’re left with an odd soup of fans – some baying for nought but Cruelty and the Beast, others content with whatever’s flung their way and others that spend the set screaming ‘Dani! Dani!’ at a pitch only dogs can hear. Whatever your preference, the clear message from the majority of the Cambridge set was that although the musicianship is faultless and the songs perfectly good, the raw unbridled passion from earlier works is second to none on a live platform.

Song choices aside, the performance itself was spectacular. Cradle of Filth, stripped of the gimmickry of demonic puppets and half naked dancers, proved their worth a thousand times over. Dani Filth, the domesticated father and husband channelled the bowels of hell once more and stamped it on his homeland. Those of us that witnessed Cradle’s long-awaited homecoming were more than a little privileged, and put it this way; I spent my 22nd birthday queueing from 9am for this gig, and I don’t regret a damn minute of it. Cradle stole my soul as a pre-teen and I certainly don’t think I’ll be getting it back any time soon.