At an Indiana coffeehouse, I once listened to a charmingly unibrowed patron tell me about his displeasure with his lot in life. Through various shades of incomprehensibility, he spoke at length of the British Isles; he let me leaf through his expensive imported architecture magazine; he showed me how he lit his cigarettes with matches. The final straw came when he gestured impatiently at the country band playing in the corner and muttered something about its “unintellectuality in such a collegiate setting.” I gave him an I for “Idiot” and a T for “Nice Try” and politely excused myself to listen to the band, who sang entirely decent songs that sometimes made me yearn for home.
Add some years, cunning, and singer-songwriter aspirations to that dude, and you might get the already British Dani Filth, who obscures his coherent ideas in two ways. First off, he’s a terrible vocalist, even by growly metal standards. Forget not-singing—Filth marches through his lyrics with a sense of leaden desperation, which is understandable when he has to scan lines like “My preference leans to killing you quickly.” His cadences sound fearful of any syncopation, anything shorter than an eighth note, as though these caprices would undercut the seriousness of the words. Which, of course, are problem number two. “Swansong for a Raven” could be an attractive pastoral-gothic death ballad, along the lines of “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” or “Long Black Veil,” but Filth’s word choices squander any hope of communication: “[Death’s] dark eye/ Has fixed, a basilisk, a scythe/On charred remains/With shared disdain/For those I chose to mortify.” In another song, he shouts the word “shalt,” separated from its action verb, just to make sure we got it.
Listening along with Nymphetamine‘s lyric sheet is just making me angrier and angrier; I continue because of Filth’s band, which plays stunning classical metal, bursting with pummeling power and gothic grandeur. The best song, “Coffin Fodder,” recalls Judas Priest in its galloping twin-guitar lead, and the piano-driven beauty elsewhere displays an affinity with dark Scandinavian stuff. Even the orchestral/ choral passages rival, say, William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience for dissonance that captures your heart. If you can brush off the singer to the point of abstraction, this band is great. Unfortunately, he’s way up front in the mix.