“I DON’T WANT TO JUST CRAM A MILLION NOTES INTO
an available space,” explains Cradle of Filth guitarist Paul
Allender. “I’d much rather play some meaningful notes in the
right places. It’s all about having the music breathe—only
then can the emotion of the music come across.” For 20 years
COF have successfully conveyed their punishing musical message—
an extreme metal screenplay to accompany your sickest
nightmare. The British group (which also
features guitarist James McEllroy) creates
music that is rife with blast beats, horror/
goth imagery, and tunes that twist, turn,
and ultimately assault the listener until
they’ve been pummeled to a bloody pulp.
Even though the band’s music is dense
with symphonic elements, Allender manages
to inject provocative melodic statements
with clever counter harmonies and
concise, always interesting solos. He also
sports a sharp and sinister riffing sensibility
that is sometimes simple and grooving
and sometimes wickedly complex. Cradle
of Filth’s new album, Darkly, Darkly, Venus
Aversa [Nuclear Blast], continues Allender
and company’s attack on the metal masses,
and makes it clear that the band won’t be
stepping off the necks of their listeners
Can you describe Cradle’s record-making process?
Our demos are damn near the same as
our finished albums. There may be slight
tweaks, but no changes that would cause
any headaches. In fact, to save time, our
singer tracks his vocal to the demos in one
room with a separate engineer, and we track
the guitars, bass, and drums to the same
demos in another room. Then we put it all
together. I often joke that our demos are as
good as some people’s albums.
How do you manage multiple band demos
My studio is the hub, and the others
send me their ideas. I put it all together—
basically rewrite things, add the symphonic
stuff using samples, and then send everything
out to see if everyone likes it.
How do you write?
I usually sit down and jam with a drumbeat.
If I come across a riff that I think has
potential, I’ll try and screw it up—maybe
rearrange the sequence of notes—and make
it more difficult to play. Nine times out of
ten, I can’t do it straightaway and I need to
slow it down and get it under my fingers.
I’ve found that is a good way to write and
practice. About half of the time my ideas
get simplified before I settle on the final
riff for the demo, but I’ll use any left over
bits for orchestral sections. Everything I
play gets used. I don’t have a surplus. If
an idea is good, I’ll work with it until it’s
worthy of being on an album.
Do you do anything special to ensure that
your guitars cut through the dense orchestral
No. As long as the tones are heavy and
there is clarity to the notes so you can
hear everything when we play fast, then
I’m good. Any carving and fine-tuning as
far as where instruments sit is done at the
mixing stage. Getting the guitars to cut isn’t
a problem for us because we don’t do a lot
of layering of riffs—maybe a harmony part
here and there, but it is usually one guitar
on the left and one on the right. For the
new album we used all sorts of combinations
of Orange and Engl 4x12 cabinets
coupled with Engl, Randall, and Blackstar
heads. I know the Orange/Randall combo
was used quite a bit.
What does your live rig look like?
I use my signature PRS. It’s perfect.
I love the way it hangs on my body, and
the neck feels like a knife through butter.
It’s loaded with an EMG 81 in the bridge
and an 89 in the neck, strung with Rotosounds
gauged .011-.052, and tuned down
to D. I’m trying to get PRS to make me
a 7-string baritone. I want to experiment
with that on the next album and get away
from the norm. I plug into a Blackstar
Series 200 head and a Blackstar 2x12 cab.
Everything is offstage where the tech looks
after it all. I like the stage to be clean. I
don’t even use pedals.
When I first started I was always messing
around with who knows what. But when it
came time to do it properly and get onstage
and play and put on a show, I thought, “What
is the point of all of this stuff?” It makes
life more complicated onstage, and you’ve
got band members treading on everything.
A friend of mine is a guitar tech, and she
came to a gig and asked, “Can I be your
tech? It would be so easy.” The best thing
I ever did for my tone was to turn the distortion
down on my amp. It makes me work
a bit harder, but the payoff is much more
clarity and definition.
Nearly every metal guitarist I speak with
uses a noise gate at the very least.
Why? Just turn the distortion down a
bit and work a little harder—then you don’t
have to worry about any of that. I just turn
down my front pickup and use the toggle
switch to silence my signal whenever I’m
not playing. I had to get used to playing
with less distortion—and it was a gradual
process that took place over the years—but
I’m used to it now, and I can’t go back. Too
much distortion hides everything you do,
especially in a live setting.
Your soloing style exhibits a tuneful, very
measured quality. Who are some of your soloing
I don’t really have any. I was always surrounded
by the latest guitar player bollocks
from all of my friends who wanted to be the
next big shredder, so I’ve always tried to shy
away from that. This may sound weird, but
I really like blues and jazz. I love B.B. King
and Gary Moore and Elmore James. I don’t
play blues and jazz, I just listen. If it swings
and grooves, I’m hooked. Everyone in metal
shreds, and I haven’t found anything on the
shred front that’s all that different. It all
sounds the same. There are only so many
notes, and a lot of people have reached the
maximum. I tend to slow things down to
convey a bit more relaxation when soloing,
rather than worrying about going over the
top. Melodic lines are way more memorable
I feel you need to get the rhythm side of
your playing sorted out first, and then move
on to the leads. Not only will your rhythm
playing get better, but also your songwriting,
as rhythm guitar is the basis for good tunes. I
look on YouTube and there are so many kids
shredding, but where are the tunes? I get
the feeling people have forgotten about that.
They just want to show off to their mates.
It’s like a sport, and that’s wrong.
Do you compose your solos?
My solos are all worked out. I don’t have
the gift of remembering stuff. Also, I’ve never
been able to lift things straight off of records,
but I feel that’s how I got my own style. When
I was a kid, I decided to write songs in the
vein of the bands that I liked, such as Judas
Priest and Iron Maiden. That was also how
I learned to arrange tunes.
What do you need to hear in your monitor mix
All I have is the kick drum and my guitar
in the monitor. I use the kick like a metronome.
It’s failsafe. You never know what
the venue is going to be like once you hit
the stage—even with a sound check. Even
if it’s the worst sound imaginable onstage
and I can’t hear anything, as long as the kick
is going I’ll never get lost. Simple is best. I
can’t see the point in having snare and high
hat in the monitor. And I don’t need to hear
what everyone else is doing because we’re in
the same band and I totally trust that they’re
doing it right.
How has your playing improved over the past
It’s cleaner. I’ve been told that my playing
is very audible live, and the fast, riff stuff
is very bang—in the pocket. But that’s just
practice and practicing guitar isn’t enough. I
write songs more than I just play guitar. My
soloing has also gotten more fluid. But I don’t
make a huge deal out of soloing, so when I
do something cool, people are like “f*****g
hell!” They’re surprised. It needs to be in the
right place and enhance everything around
it, otherwise there’s no point.