“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 anytime soon.
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 efficiently?
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 arrangements?
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 influences?
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 than shredding.
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 onstage?
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 few years?
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.