It was mild agony getting up before dawn to call Martin Škaroupka, the 31-year-old Cradle Of Filth drummer who lives multiple time zones away in the Czech Republic. Crack-of-dawn scheduling isn’t in our easygoing California nature, and yet suffering before one of black metal’s more evil practitioners is somehow fitting.
Unlike Cradle Of Filth’s previous drummers, Škaroupka wrote all the keyboard passages and synth hooks on The Manticore And Other Horrors. But as he was creating the demos along with guitarist Paul Allender, the drum parts were always in the back of his mind while arranging the album’s 11 dark operettas (released on Halloween, naturally). Keys are just another percussion instrument for this well-rounded musician. “This time I had more freedom,” says Škaroupka, “so this actually allowed me the opportunity to create some different drum beats.”
Compared to the symphonic polish of Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa or the overly refined Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder, from 2008, The Manticore And Other Horrors has a dirty NWOBHM vibe that recalls early ’80s Iron Maiden. The guitars slash and burn as frontman Dani Filth rasps and shrieks in equal horror—movie measure. The slightly skewed musical direction is conducive to Škaroupka’s thrash-punk beat, a galloping style of single kick, in tracks such as “For Your Vulgar Delectation,” “Huge Onyx Wings Behind Despair,” and “Siding With Titans.”
Don’t worry, Manticore still sounds like Cradle Of Filth, and Škaroupka’s double-kick – 240 bpm average in the blast sections compared to Godspeed’s average of 250 – is plenty fast. “You have to play with your right hand on the snare and with the China on the left,” he says of the Cradle approach to bomb blasts. “It’s not the usual blast like a death-metal or black-metal blastbeat.” Masterfully as he executes them, they’re not exactly Škaroupka’s favorite beats to play. The style is an homage to vintage Cradle. “I try to play the old songs in the way they should have been played,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter if the songs are recorded by Adrian [Erlandsson] or Nick [Barker], the previous drummers. I’m trying to keep the beats, rolls, everything the same so fans can actually enjoy it and it’s not like a totally different-sounding song. I can add some of my own ideas, but the main structure of the song should stay the same.”
Although he plays a Pearl Reference on tour and used a Reference in the studio for Manticore, it was a Pearl Studio Master for Godspeed and Darkly, Darkly. “Nobody wants to hear the same drum sounds from the same kit,” he says. Seems like a setup swap would make no difference with all the post-production magic available, but there’s the rub: Unlike other Cradle records, no sample libraries or sound replacement was used on Manticore. “Also we didn’t do any major edits or anything like that,” he says, estimating five or six drum takes on average. “Because we wanted to make it as real as possible.”
Škaroupka does not use triggers in the studio – just for live situations and only on the bass drums. More importantly, he sets them to trigger dynamically: A soft beater stroke has as a correspondingly soft sound. “So it’s not like cheating,” he says. “Some drummers do not use it with this sensibility. Some use it with the same sensibility all the time. That means when you hit it softer, it will still sound louder.”
It shows the lengths to which an extreme-metal drummer has to go these days to keep himself and the fans entertained. “I do enjoy playing blastbeats, however, I can’t imagine myself playing the same blastbeats in ten songs all the time,” he says. “I’m a powerhouse drummer and I do enjoy playing a lot of different stuff like power metal, speed metal, black metal, progressive rock, hard rock … ”
By default, Manticore required that Škaroupka play to a metronome in the studio, since all the backing synths are recorded to a click. It’s a shockingly sterile, even cold way of going about that blissfully occult alchemy of the Cradle sound, and leaves no room for error. “Not on the old songs, though,” he says referring to the click. “Because we don’t have any backing tracks for the old songs, but for most of the new songs, we have to use the backing tracks.”
Couldn’t live keyboardist Caroline Campbell handle those keyboard parts? “But she only has two hands, right? There is sometimes, like, four or five different keyboard sounds.” (Speaking of orchestral pomp, Cradle went 100 percent acoustically symphonic on 2003’s Damnation And A Day, hiring the Budapest Orchestra).
Škaroupka was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t until age 12 that he was able to take rock-based drum set lessons because there were no qualified instructors in the country. Even when he did enroll in a percussion program it came with strings attached. “You were required to take piano also if you were majoring in percussion,” he says of the Leoš Janáček Conservatory in Brno. “During the Communist era the drummers had to play flute. [laughs] So I was relieved it was only piano that I had to do.”