For many a metal-head of a certain vintage, this pulverising slab of sumptuous, genre-smashing extreme metal has long occupied a unique place in the pitch-black annals of a movement that’s altered immeasurably since ‘Cruelty and the Beast’ first made its deliciously sinister, blood-soaked entrance into the world back in 1998. With the intricately gnarled and expansive roots of the album’s influential legacy having since taken firmly established hold in the decades that followed, it’s hard to pin down precisely what affords this album the influential status and longevity it enjoys today.
Is it the scalding, breathlessly frantic extremes of aggression that abound from every violently propulsive blast and desolate, brimstone-scorched shriek? The searing, knife-edged precision underpinning its meticulously sculpted lines of tremolo? The dark, spoiled lily-scented reek of decay that palpably oozes from its endless layerings of luxuriantly tumbling organ notes. Given the sheer, multi-layered complexity of such a record, there are perhaps no concrete and definitive answers to this particular conundrum. What is, however, indisputably clear about ‘Cruelty…’ is its tremendous meticulousness and ingenuity of design; the unmistakable evidence of a creatively supple and fearlessly inventive compositional mind in motion. The generous, Hammer Horror-worthy lashings of gratuitous bloodshed and shadow-cloistered intrigue that elevate this album to the status of a blackly immersive masterpiece.
But however admirably this legendary opus may have aged and endured into the 21st century, there’s no denying the cosmetic perks that come with the modern remastering of classic material. Handled, as is only rightly fitting to its legacy, by the famously industrious studio aficionados at Grindstone, this intricate, genre-defying mix benefits enormously from these freshly amplified levels of sonic crispness and clarity. With every skull-splitting blast and needling, coldly visceral accent of tremolo assuming razor-sharp prominence in the mix, the vicious yet thoroughly intricate ‘Thirteen Autumns and a Widow’ makes for a dizzyingly exhilarating opener.
Displaying a finely sculpted definition that earlier technology inevitably fails to rival, the album’s aggressive elements are honed to explosive levels of face-melting intensity. Crucially, too, its many ethereal subtleties and nimbly orchestrated details sit perfectly harmoniously alongside these brutal dynamics, with ‘Beneath the Howling Stars’s’ lofty, orchestral ecstasies soaring airily atop a churning undertow of brutalising riffage. With its wistfully melancholic flurries of ghoulish choirs rising and dispersing coldly into the ether like the distant echoes of lost souls, ‘Bathory Aria’ is as hauntingly elegant and seductive in form as ever, with its recent audio grooming imbuing in it an unimaginably rich, luxuriant resonance. Accompanied by a uniquely ghoulish variation on the album’s original artwork, updated liner notes and available in limited edition blood red vinyl, this is as definitive and complete a form to savour ‘Cruelty…’ in as you could possibly imagine.
'Cruelty and the Beast remistressed' is out now on Music for Nations