This album is just excellent, and is one of the few concept albums that really works. Based on the legend of the Hungarian 'Blood Countess' Elizabeth Bathory, the album drags its listeners through a dark and violent story steeped in eroticism and lascivious imagery. Dani's lyrics are intelligent and intriguing in equal measures - it's almost worth buying the album just to read them. However, don't expect to be able to actually hear his message as his trademark screaming and barking blurs the dialogue into one long tirade of apocalyptic proportions.
At the time the band were disappointed with the sound production and were particularly despondent about the drum sound. However, until they had actually pointed that out to me I had not noticed that there was anything amiss. With hindsight it's noticeable that the drums are quite tinny, but I really don't think this detracts from the quality of the songs as a whole. Nicholas Barker's drumming is so furious, and his timing is so accurate, that any sound production issues pale into insignificance.
Cruelty and the Beast was the first Cradle of Filth album to really reveal the band's influences, and a heavy dose of Iron Maiden style riffage can be heard resonating from the twin guitars. The dark undertone, carried forward from The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, prevents the guitar sound from being too cheery, but the seeds of commerciality were definitely being sown at this stage. I bought the first couple of albums from underground 'goth' shops and was surprised to see this one hit the shelves in all the major music retailers immediately. This was partly due to Dani's increasing presence in the rock media at the time, but was also as a consequence of more traditional metal sounds coming through the mix.
Being a concept album all of the songs flow together well and are best appreciated in their original sequence. However, in my view, the classics are Thirteen Autumns and a Widow, Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids, Beneath the Howling Stars and The Twisted Nails of Faith. The album loses the plot slightly half way through The Bathory Aria, but quickly picks up again towards the end. Concluding the album is Lustmord and Wargasm, a huge song that leaves you feeling knackered when it's over.
All of the songs explode with a diverse array of sounds and the orchestration is extremely impressive. At times there are classical elements that could be confused with Brahms, whilst the cacophony that erupts from other parts, usually from the same songs, could only be matched by the most intense thrash metal band after thirteen shots of Black Death vodka.
I highly recommend this album to any fan of Black Metal. This was Cradle of Filth at their best. It swept aside the whole genre and redefined 'heavy' for a new era.