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Long have I been a fan of Coventry, England, UK band Cathedral. Introducing myself to their early delights, such as, 'Forest of Equilibrium' & 'The Ethereal Mirror,' it wasn't long before I had everything else the band had released. My love for the band even reached a somewhat ridiculous climax a few years ago when I traveled to England just to see them play live at Bloodstock and even visit their hometown. So, as you can probably imagine hearing the news that the band was splitting up hit me in an odd way. No, I wasn't blubbering out tears and screaming, but you know, when a band you've loved for a long time splits it does rip something out of you. On the other hand, I believe all good things should come to their logical end and having been together since '89 that time had finally come for these doomsters. They'd etched the stone of doom and left their influence infinitely known among all that listen to this sort of music.
Prior to the recording of this album long time bassist Leo Smee left the band and was replaced by Scott Carlson of Repulsion, although Scott had helped Cathedral way back in '94 with a few Black Sabbath cover songs and live work prior to Smee joining the band that same year.
'The Last Spire' may be the bands last record, but in a way its like a journey back to the beginning. Forgoing the long time stoner metal/rock tendencies within their music and the more progressive and even experimental traits of their last record, 'The Guessing Game,' this final effort is pure heavy doom all the way. The atmosphere within the record is often dark and gloomy, the riffs are crushing and oppressive, while the tempo rarely goes faster than a turtles pace and the song writing itself is by far some of the finest they've busted out in years. Lee Dorian's signature voice is as ever strong and potent, as well the guest spots from Rosalie Cunningham (Purson) and Chris Reifert (Autopsy) only make the vocal portions of the album all the more dynamic. Honestly their are some proggy touches to the album, in the form of some moog and synth noodling, although its intermingled with the heavy riffing and hard hitting bass in just the right way that it seems very natural and not out of place at all.
Although I do enjoy this album quite a bit I found that its an album that really requires multiple listens before it really sinks in. I had the same issue with the previous Cathedral album, but this one being more straightforward I figured I'd be alright, yet that wasn't the case. Fortunately once you get to about the third of fourth spin you really take notice of the little things and see the album for what it is - bleak heavy as all get out traditional doom, just the way I like it.
I wont jump to an conclusions and call this the doom album of the century, because it surely is not that. However it is a solid piece of doom and a thrilling final statement from these legends. Surely a must for the long time fans, or even casual listeners of them, 'The Last Spire' may be the end of Cathedral, but I've got ten documents of doom to listen to from them until the day I die. Rest in Peace, Cathedral, the pallbearer is waiting for you.
Originally wrote for, Lunar Hypnosis: http://lunarhypnosis.blogspot.com
A lot of veteran musicians have claimed that a given album will be the last they ever put out, but no claim has ever hit as close to home as the one Cathedral made with The Last Spire. While the group’s doom contributions and experimental nature helped secure their popularity, they went into a lengthy hiatus after The Garden of Unearthly Delights in 2005 and their future was called into further question with The Guessing Game five years later. Fortunately, they’ve got one last card up their sleeve and have also got former live bassist Scott Carlson back on board in place of longtime member Leo Smee.
In a move that is jarring yet subconsciously anticipated, The Last Spire sees Cathedral abandoning their stoner and prog flirtations and going back to the slow dirge-driven sound that made its first appearance on the monolithic Forest Of Equilibrium. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly dark, the song structures are surprisingly elaborate, the riffs are as oppressive as they are drawn out, and the tempo never gets any faster than the snail’s pace march on lead single “Tower Of Silence.”
These aforementioned tropes do make this out to be a sister album of Forest Of Equilibrium, but some of the band’s latter day quirks do keep them from completely repeating themselves. In addition to the production having a much cleaner sound than the debut’s grimy tone, Lee Dorrian still keeps to his signature Ian Anderson meets Tom G Warrior bark and a few non-sequiturs pop up to keep things interesting. The Chris Reifert cameo on “Cathedral Of The Damned,” the extended waltz of “An Observation,” and the thirty seconds of awkward chuckling on “The Last Laugh” are just a few of the album’s more memorable moments.
But even with a move towards a straightforward doom sound, this album is oddly harder to get a feel for than the experimental releases before it. The slow pacing leads to it being somewhat monotonous at times and the songs are more about accentuating their structures than providing groovy riffs. Fortunately, the songs are all pretty well written and reward multiple listens. In addition to the previously listed tracks, the closing “This Body, Thy Tomb” makes for a powerful highlight thanks to its labored verses and an instrumental segment that implies the band’s return into the sludgy recesses from whence it came.
While it would’ve benefitted from one last attempt to recreate “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General),” Cathedral’s last studio album is a successful attempt at going full circle and just might be the most honest swan song that has come out in recent years. While I would personally recommend something like Forest Of Equilibrium or The Garden Of Unearthly Delights before this one, it should please most of the band’s fanbase and does a good job of securing their immense legacy. We’ll just have to see where things go from here…
“Tower Of Silence”
“This Body, Thy Tomb”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
Cathedral’s end has come. “The Last Spire” is the final album released by this legendary congress of British doom metal, and I must say it’s somewhat of a whirlwind of bittersweet emotions reviewing this mammoth. I bought “The Garden of Unearthly Delights” on a whim when I was but a stranger to the void of metal, and that CD, before discovering classics like “The Ethereal Mirror,” was one of my first CD purchases ever—I doubt I’d be beyond a rudimentary understanding of doom metal had I not bought it. Cathedral has always been a favorite of mine, and I was saddened when they announced this would be the final Cathedral output, yet there’s an unavoidable truth here that is often forgotten: all things must fall. Tragic as it may be, “The Last Spire” concludes the titanic legacy of Cathedral in prime fashion, and I believe they've made no errors pulling the plug on this colossal band.
Cathedral's releases have a definite mark of an excellent group: each one is radically different, yet still pumping with the trademark blood of its creators. "The Last Spire" comes off as a dark, brooding opus most similar to their excellent yet underrated "Endtyme" record, with hints of "Forest of Equilibrium" and trace amounts of the instrumental eccentricity of "The Guessing Game." It puts Cathedral in the grave in a way that honors just about everything Lee and crew have ever made, and it's a fantastic conglomeration of the seasoned doom metal sound—the squad's undisputed strength—and tiny jabs of the occasional experimental element or instrument. No fun, upbeat numbers like "Midnight Mountain" or "Ride," though; it's all sonic, lightless gloom.
However, "The Last Spire" encapsulates its own identity. It's a dark album in that it sounds apocalyptic and nihilistic and evil and bleak, but does not envision isolation or sadness like "Forest of Equilibrium." It's an intense album in that its sound quality is heavy and powerful and authoritative and experienced, but does not steer toward exclusive darkness like "Endtyme." The experimental (or progressive, I suppose) elements are implemented into the picture through some very unpredictable and dazzling mediums, and in the end "The Last Spire" is an organic Cathedral release representing what are pretty much the best aspects of the group's discography. It is both everything and nothing, natural and foreboding, direct and sophisticated. It goes without saying that “The Last Spire” is the most digestible Cathedral album since “The Carnival Bizarre," and it sounds like a band going out on top.
The introduction to the funeral of Cathedral, "Entrance to Hell," is a haunted piece of dark samples that sounds like wandering through a forlorn, foggy graveyard while undead creations circle their prey; it's a proper introduction to the album's atmosphere. The symphony of death truly begins on "Pallbearer," wherein the fierce, crawling doom metal onslaught ignites. The song is eleven-plus minutes of Cathedral at its most diabolical. The riffs slowly churn and boil over drummer Brian Dixon and returning bassist Scott Carlson hammering underneath Gaz Jennings' loyal guitar work and Lee‘s trademark voice, and they all sound twisted and totally into it. Midway through the monolith Cathedral tosses in an acoustic passage-solo combo that comes from nowhere, yet works splendidly; a perfect example of those minor experimental/progressive touches à la "The Guessing Game" coming into fruition.
It circles back to the straightforward Cathedral sound, ending the way it started. “Pallbearer” is an honest illustration of the whole piece: dark doom metal with adventitious influences. More interesting, Carlson’s bass has more of a prominent role in the music than any former bassist or release that Cathedral has ever seen; it’s a much more pivotal factor here. Because each tune remains so loyal to the album’s blueprint yet tilted on its own unique angle, no song is precisely similar. The least ambitious of the bunch, and definitely the most likeable, happens to be “Tower of Silence,” a seven-minute bludgeoning of murky, simple heaviness retching through Lee’s sadistic singing and Dixon beating easy drum patterns into oblivion. Carlson and Jennings both contribute leads during the solo section, and the anthem is a righteous cut of doom from the womb of its masters, debatably one of their finest, ever.
“This Body, Thy Tomb” and “Cathedral of the Damned” likewise depend on more riff-based postulates than the abstract instrumental sections of other songs. Then again, this is Cathedral, and they do quite well exhibiting sunless, pulverizing staples of old-school doom metal. “Cathedral of the Damned” is perhaps the most upbeat number, yet it is countless miles from the speed and velocity of tempo anomalies like “Soul Sacrifice.” Longtime session keyboard specialist David Moore has an incredibly prominent role throughout the album. His arsenal of instruments (Hammond organ, Mellotron, synthesizers, etc.) is more often than not weaving between Cathedral's work, and it at times comes to the forefront of the bombardment, particularly throughout his solo section during "An Observation." It feels so comfortable and right; it’s like coming home for the last time.
"The Last Spire" is straightforward yet dynamic, bold yet loyal, startling yet proud. It is a swansong worth writing home about; not a lot of bands have that privilege. The material within "The Last Spire" runs deep into the intestines of Cathedral, like all of its dark secrets and masks rolled into one superb entity. The spirit of Cathedral has left the autumn's twilight. Its body now rests in the cemetery of the gods. This album is the final goodbye. Cathedral's one final opus envisioned the properties of itself with utmost perfection, and it is a fantastic display of mastery, no matter how painful the parting may be. They'll hopefully make the carnival in Valhalla that much more bizarre, and you know when they reach its gates, the freaks of nature will stand right up, until the circle of time finally closes.
R.I.P. Cathedral. Thanks for the memories.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com