DEVILMENT – Waltzing Under The Thunder
Ipswich, Suffolk, England-based symphonic gothic metal outfit Devilment – fronted by Cradle Of Filth mainman Dani Filth – wrote compositions in support of second full-length studio album II: The Mephisto Waltzes during 2015, subsequently recording during 2016. Eleventh Cradle Of Filth studio affair Hammer Of The Witches arrived in July of 2015, with press commitments as well as treks to America, Europe and Russia taking place during II: The Mephisto Waltzes’ inception.
“We obviously had to fit everything in-between, but we managed to get around that quite easily,” Dani reckons. “So, I guess it took about five to six months, on and off, to write the material. I’m fortunate in that Devilment all live in my locality, whereas Cradle Of Filth are literally spread across the known galaxy, so it’s a lot easier to get to rehearsals in-between touring with Cradle. Devilment went into the studio while I was actually touring in the States, but we demoed everything a lot, so we had no worry there.
“We also worked a lot on the material while we were in the studio. We went ‘Let’s dissect this song, because let’s be honest: it’s not as strong.’ We didn’t want any filler on it. We could’ve put another two tracks on the record, but we wanted to go for quality over quantity. And yeah, we worked really hard, stripping back choruses, and just doing things up, and looking at how samples and keyboard sounds complement the guitars, and things like that. We were just really put through our paces by the producer Scott Atkins, who worked very, very hard on it. Yeah, we’re very pleased with the results.
“Obviously, we’ve got a new drummer. It was very amicable, the split with Aaron (Boast), because Aaron our previous drummer was moving house, and had a new job, and a lot of other commitments. So, he passed over the baton to Matt (Alston). He actually found Matt for us, and I still play soccer with… Well, not at the present because he’s broken his arm… But I still play soccer and go drinking etcetera with Aaron. So, as I said, very amicable. Obviously, we played on our strengths with the writing from the first record, but most of the record… Well, half of the record – The Great And Secret Show (November 2014) – was already written before Lauren and Colin came onboard. With this album, they were there from the beginning, and so I think that’s why we see a stronger performance from both people. Yeah, it’s just bigger, better, darker, and more gothic. It’s more experimental, but not so experimental that it’s drifted away from what people expect of Devilment. I mean, it’s not chalk and cheese between both albums.
“Like I said, we played on the strengths. There’s a lot of the groove and the heaviness and the catchy choruses carried over, but we have obviously… I mean, songs like ‘Hitchcock Blonde’ and ‘Dea Della Morte’, ‘Shine On Sophie Moone’ and ‘Full Dark, No Stars’ etcetera are very different from one another, henceforth why we released three singles prior to the album. One song doesn’t really do the album justice. The material’s quite eclectic, do you know what I mean? If we just released ‘Under The Thunder’, people would be expecting the whole album to be nine or ten songs of that, so I think by releasing ‘Hitchcock Blonde’ and ‘Full Dark, No Stars’, it gives you quite a good window into what the album is about.”
Writing sessions for II: The Mephisto Waltzes were a collaborative affair, the likes of keyboardist / vocalist Lauren Francis present from the outset. “Definitely,” the singer affirms. “It’s collaborative, despite what anybody says, in both my bands, and even more so now than ever before. And yeah, this is the first time that I actually got some lyrics from Lauren. Normally, I think girl’s lyrics are about ponies and unicorns and rainbows, and stuff like that. I’m not being derogatory, but they are.
“I got these lyrics through and I was going to rewrite them, but I thought ‘Well, no. That actually fits in with the track.’ They were for her part in ‘Full Dark, No Stars’. It’s a real pain sometimes because of the cadence of how they seem, and trying to make words fit. This was the very first time ever in my whole career that I thought ‘Fuck it. Yeah, let’s just keep what she’s written.’ It’s great and it works very well, so I wrote lyrics around what she had written.
“Then on some occasions, for example, like the chorus of ‘Under The Thunder’. We’d both written a melody for the chorus and we couldn’t decide which one was the better one, or which one worked the best. In the end, we just went ‘Okay. We’ll have mine to start with, and you can have the second half.’ We just used sort of half of each. So yeah, there was a lot of interaction. Like I say, on even keyboard samples and synth sounds. You can come up with a great synth sound, but then you can put a rhythm guitar over it and they can cancel each other out, or they just don’t work. So, there was a lot of experimentation as well.”
II: The Mephisto Waltzes will inevitably be critiqued against predecessor The Great And Secret Show. “Hopefully, I wouldn’t have to,” Dani muses. “Yeah though, it’s just got more variation. The musicianship’s obviously gone up a level as well. We’re more comfortable with what we’re doing, so we’ve got some experimentation on there. Yeah, I just think everything is better, and that’s just from a lot of hard work and just finding our feet with the band. A lot of people have just written this off as a vanity project; that it would just be one album, and that’d be it. I think a lot of people are quite surprised that it got to album number two, and I think that’s why we’ve got that subtitle II. It’s almost like two fingers up to say ‘Look, it’s a second record. It’s a proper band. Believe it,’ and I think people are coming onboard a lot more. Well, I know they are. Loads more press, and loads more interest from all and sundry. So yeah, it’s good.”
An array of dark influences and themes underpin the effort. “The Mephisto Waltzes,” the vocalist begins. “The title is inspired by Franz Liszt, who basically wrote four piano pieces which concern themselves with the story of Faust. Faust is a guy that sold his soul to the Devil, and tried getting it back. The Mephisto Waltz is also an American horror movie (1971), which took its title from the work of Franz Liszt as well, and is also a track by The Misfits. It works very well with the artwork by Elena. You’ve got this woman on the front who seems to be doing this sort of strange tarantella, almost this dance of death. It suggests that all of the tracks on the album are linked to devilish endeavours, hence the band being called Devilment. At heart though, it’s essentially about dark emotions that are overcome.
“You’ve got ‘JudasStein’, which is about justice, and this creature being a magnet for all the sins of the world. Then you’ve got ‘Hitchcock Blonde’, which is pretty self-explanatory – about infatuation. You’ve got retribution, you’ve got oppression, obsession, fanaticism, death. You’ve got all of these very dark emotions that underline and underpin the record, but I think the record is very cathartic, as in it’s about a process. It’s like being in a cocoon, to come out better on the other side. It’s about overcoming all of these bad feelings, and then coming out positive on the other side. About overcoming depression, overcoming infatuation, or dealing with it, etcetera, etcetera. The process of writing that was cathartic in itself, because it is about getting all of your demons out – your musical demons out, your lyrical demons out – and cleansing yourself.”
Deciding whether authored lyrical content is more suitable for either Devilment or Cradle Of Filth isn’t difficult for Dani. “Sometimes things suggest themselves,” he reasons. “‘Shine On Sophie Moone’ was a title that was destined for the band Temple Of The Black Moon that I was in, and it just seemed right. Don’t ask me why, but it just did. Sometimes the music suggests stuff, or I give people ideas and that’s suggestive enough for them to begin doing musical endeavours from it. Yeah though, there’s definitely a bridge between the two. I definitely go, in my mind, ‘Yeah, I’ll write something down.’ I always keep notes, all of the time. I’ve got loads of books; little grimoires where I just write down ideas, and words that I like, or sentences, or bits of poetry every now and then.
“There’ll be bits that I’ll definitely mark off as ‘Well, that’s definitely Cradle Of Filth. That is not Devilment.’ I think Cradle are more akin to… If you’re going to be blunt about it and decisive, it’s a little bit more old school. Like Byron, Shelley, Polidori, you know. Arthur Machen, that sort of thing. Devilment are way more modern; Robert Aickman, Sylvia Plath, Tim Burton, that sort of thing. It’s a little bit more mischievous. Even the title Devilment means Machiavellian mischief, so it’s not Devilment with fucking massive inverted crosses, skulls, and sacrificial altars. It’s Devilment with a little wry wink and sardonic smile.”
II: The Mephisto Waltzes’ front cover artwork was designed by Elena Vizerskaya, as the frontman referenced earlier. “Originally, I wanted to use these pieces – or cover these pieces – for a Cradle album,” he informs. “That was for The Manticore And Other Horrors (October 2012) like four or five years ago, but there was an internal dispute among the band. The guitarist didn’t want to use them. He said ‘What’s that got to do with Cradle Of Filth?’ Little imagination.
“Anyway, it’s all good for Devilment because I thought ‘What are we gonna do for artwork for this album?’ Then I remembered Elena, and I contacted her and her agent. I found out that most of the work was still available – all of the pieces that we really liked – so we chose bits that we thought best represented the band. I mean, she didn’t do them specifically for the band, but what we did to integrate them into the whole… Obviously, we chose them from the thousands of works that she has done. We chose six really, really great bits, and we integrated them.
“The album title came from the album cover. ‘Dea Della Morte’ came from the album covers, because it’s like a dual cover; if you turn it over, there’s two covers, basically. Also, there was a guy called Dan Goldsworthy who was responsible for the art direction, and putting lyrics in the booklet together. With the special editions, there’s obviously expanded artwork, so he came up with some other pieces that complemented Elena’s, and also for lyric pages, etcetera, etcetera. Between the two of them, I think we’ve got a really great looking piece of product. It’s a really great looking booklet.
“I think it’s important, because in this day and age, a lot of people don’t even bother buying CDs – even though they’re the cheapest that they’ve ever been. CDs are like £8; that’s like the price of a bottle of wine for Christ’s sake, and that will go down. There’s a lot of stuff on Amazon nowadays that’s been out a year, and they’re like £4. That’s £4 for a CD, and yet people are still like ‘I’m not gonna buy that. I’m just gonna download it.’ They don’t even appreciate it, because they’ve downloaded it. If you buy something, you expect to get something great out of it. I think that our fans are appreciative of the fact that whether it’s Cradle or whether it’s Devilment, the artwork’s always top notch and the lyrics are top notch. Whether they like them or not is another matter, but there is something extra they get aside from the music that feels like quality, that feels like they can be immersed in.”
Recording sessions took place between March and July 2016 at Grindstone Studios in Ipswich, Suffolk, Scott Atkins handling recording, mixing, and mastering. Naturally, Dani has warm feelings towards Scott. “Great,” he enthuses. “We’re using him for the new Cradle album. Cradle go into the studio next week. This time next week, actually. Martin’s (Martin Škaroupka) beginning his drums for the new Cradle album, whereas I go out on tour with Devilment the week after. We demo everything extensively, though. I don’t have to be in there looking over everybody’s shoulders, which is a good thing. Yeah though, if I can differentiate between Devilment and Cradle, Scott can too. People say ‘You’re using the same people.’ Well, yeah, because they know the fallibilities. They know the strengths and the weaknesses of both bands. They know more about it than a stranger coming in.
“There are not just subtle differences but massive differences. The bands play in different keys, for example (laughs). So, there are differences there from the off, and that just helps make the bridge between both bands – the gulf – even bigger, by having someone who’s got their eye on both bands. So yeah, it’s great. He’s a great engineer, a great producer, a great mixer. We don’t even take it anywhere to master it, any more. We used to spend a fortune getting people from America to master it. The last time we went to a big studio in London, we must’ve spent thousands of pounds on mastering, and it sounded shit. So, it’s just better to do it all in-house. Scott works a lot on the material as well – he’s a real grafter. We don’t work weekends, which is great really because it gives you a breather. We’ll put in like 16-hour days, most days of the week.”
Variations exist between the composer’s vocal performances in Devilment and Cradle Of Filth. “I don’t really know how to answer that, to be fair,” he ponders. “It’s different from Cradle Of Filth, obviously. Like I say, it’s in a different key. When I sing high in Devilment, it’s gotta be that much higher. If I really want to do them, it literally has to be higher. When I did it, dogs came running (laughs). Yeah though, it’s more legible, I suppose. It’s less black metal. It’s more rock, isn’t it? So, it’s gonna be different. I think the interaction between Lauren and myself works very well as well with that kind of beauty and the beast concept, although it meanders as well. It’s not just about singing along together. It’s sort of like call and response, in a lot of places. Although she doesn’t appear on every single track, she appears on just about enough as not to make it too saccharine.”
A music video themed in the vein of 1960 psychological horror movie Psycho was filmed for the track ‘Hitchcock Blonde’. “We filmed it in a hotel in Ipswich,” Dani shares. “It’s literally slap bang in the centre of Ipswich. We filmed it over a couple of days, but it was three days. We did reconnaissance for the first day; myself, the producer, and some people that were involved in the making of. It was a bit of exploring, and working out where we were going to set everything up. Electric had to be run in, because there was no electric in there. It’s been deserted for about 20 years I think, but it is literally as central to Ipswich as you can get.
“It was filmed over a couple of days, the hottest days of the year. There were thousands of people outside, on the streets, and then there was us dressed to the hilt, in our stuff (laughs), sweltering, feeling a little bit like ghosts. It was such a big, sort of vacant space that we were in and looking at. Being in such a central position, it was a very weird juxtaposition – a very strange contrast – and the place was definitely haunted. We checked up on Google. We found out that Lord Nelson stayed there, and in his day there had been a big fire in one of the wings. Some of them died – a maid servant. We went to look for her, which was a little uninspiring. As soon as we had been there though, phones started going mental like they had been touched by E.T. Our guitarist’s (Colin Parks) phone literally blew up on him, and gave him an electric shock. Yeah, it was all very weird. A fire alarm went off just completely randomly in a completely different part of the building. So yeah, very bizarre, but it was great fun.
“Yeah, there’s really not much more to tell really. The whole place was very labyrinthine, because obviously they had rebuilt certain parts. So, it was a bit higgledy piggledy, and there were staircases where there shouldn’t be staircases, and oddly shaped rooms. Yeah, I remember the actual hotel from when I was young. It was open, and it was a posh place to be. You could have afternoon tea there. I remember going to a party there, but obviously it’s fallen into a state of disrepair because it’s such a big place, and it would cost millions to sort it out. There’s doves, pigeons, and all kinds of things living in there.”
Further music videos to promote II: The Mephisto Waltzes might be recorded. “I can’t say at the present,” the lyricist discloses. “I don’t know. We did three for the album, which I think was a good window into what the album sounds like. Maybe, though. Hopefully. We did the same thing for The Great And Secret Show; we did ‘Sanity Hits A (Perfect) Zero’ about seven months in. I think so. The window for… Obviously, we’re undertaking this UK tour in a few weeks time (from December 6th to December 19th), so our next window for Devilment is four months between delivery of the Cradle album and Cradle’s world tour next year. So, I guess as a sort of prelude to that, we’ll probably tackle another video. So yeah, undoubtedly.”
Cradle Of Filth’s 12th studio opus, meanwhile, will hearken towards both older and newer fare from the assortment. “From what I do know, it’s a cross between Hammer Of The Witches and Cruelty And The Beast (May 1998),” Dani judges. “It’s very melodic, very fast… Well, it’s not all fast. There’s some big, heavy tracks on there. Very ornate. There’s some great fucking riffs on there, amazing. Yeah, can’t really speak much about Cradle. Obviously, it’s not a Cradle interview. That will come in time.”
A release in September 2017 is being targeted. “It’s gonna be delivered the second week of May, and the reason for…,” the mainman begins. “I mean, it’s not being pushed out or anything like that. Whatever we release, it’s usually about two years afterwards. I think it’s just the fact that I’ve got another band makes it look like it turns around quite quickly, but it has to be released in September because of new management planning this big world tour which has to start in America on a certain date. So, the album has to be delivered and released… It all has to fall into a certain place. You can’t just go ‘Oh, we missed our deadline. Sorry,’ because otherwise, you miss your slot with releasing and with the record company, and everything they’ve got planned. So yeah, we’re free to do what we want for a certain amount of months, but then it all has to fit into a schedule.”
II: The Mephisto Waltzes was released on November 18th, 2016 via Nuclear Blast.
Interview published in November 2016. All promotional photographs by Lala Photography at JoLi Studios.
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