Black metal history's earliest, most monumental moments were fraught with exaggerated claims and overt acts of evil that found bands' unceasing attempts to top each other with examples of hatred and misanthropy. While the claims were (for the most part) merely pretense, many bands turned the spectacle into a more overt form of theater. The most realized band in that realm is Cradle of Filth. A cunning sense of dark drama and spectacle looms over their music like gargoyles that keep watch over a castle; but just as imaginary as the gargoyle, Cradle of Filth's claims toward evil are poetic, not actual, though as many Christianity advocates have vehemently claimed of this ungodly band, there is perhaps no division between the two. But to dwell on Cradle of Filth's pomp is merely an overture to the reality of their sound -- patently evil. Not the sort of evil you learned in Sunday school, but the evil that is eked out of dusty books and reveals some form of ancient, forbidden knowledge. Their albums are elaborate, rococo orchestrations that are closer in construction to a Wagnerian opera than a rock song. Symphonies of guitars, heavy organ chords and female vocals play off of wickedly complex percussion. The most unmistakable element of Filth's sound is Dani Filth's vocal acrobatics. He screams piercing notes that find harmony with your night sweat's shivers, then drops to a dark, purgatorial growl. His lyrics dwell on typically gothic subjects: death, eternity, sex, blood and suffering. Their album Cruelty and the Beast is entirely based on the legend of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory -- cliche perhaps, but Cradle of Filth always create with an intelligence and self-awareness that reveals a great art.