by Brian Krasman (meat, mead, metal)
Obituaries never are a fun thing to write, and I don’t really think I need to explain why that is. You dread them, and when it’s time to actually put one together, it can be an arduous process of deciding what you want to say, how you want to say it, and making sure you include every detail you would want a person to know about your subject.
Sadly, we get to do this today, but it’s not really what you think. No one has passed away. Instead, the all-time great doom metal warriors Cathedral have closed their drapes for good, which I’m sure a lot of you know, and we’re finally getting to talk about their final will and testament, “The Last Spire.” Lee Dorrian, longtime frontman and leader of the band, announced before recording even started that this would be the last record of the band’s mighty, heavily influential run. He had done and seen enough as Cathedral, and the band’s mission had been met. What more was there to do? It’s also kind of fitting that the band rose around the same time that Margaret Thatcher’s reign in England was being stretched thin and now Cathedral are dying along with her. Certainly that wasn’t planned, but it sure is an interesting anecdote. And my guess is people will remember Cathedral a lot more fondly.
It is a little unfortunate that Cathedral are ceasing their existence now, when doom metal is at an apex, as for the longest time they were one of the few bands faithfully pushing forward this sound, forged from a love of St. Vitus, Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and Pittsburgh’s own Dream Death. Their debut “Forest of Equilibrium” is an all-time classic, and from there, they’ve gone on to record nine more records that were mostly high quality (I couldn’t really get with 2010′s “The Guessing Game,” for one reason or another) and formed a sort of anthology study aid for newer bands who want to know what true doom is about and how to approach it. You can’t do better than Cathedral as a teacher and dark spiritual guide.
For this eight-track, nearly hour-long final chapter, Dorrian has a familiar cast alongside him, including guitarist Garry “Gaz” Jennings, drummer Brian Dixon, bassist Scott Carlson, also of Repulsion fame who played with the band around the time of touring for “The Ethereal Mirror,” and keyboard/Moog/mellotron player David Moore, who certainly sets a brooding atmosphere. They also bring in some notable, fitting guests such as Rosalie Cunningham, whose band Purson is one of the new budding stars of Dorrian’s Rise Above label, and Autopsy’s Chris Reifert, who lends his scary voice to “Cathedral of the Damned.”
The record opens with the eerie instrumental “Entrance to Hell,” where the plague-era cries of “Bring out your dead!” are repeated (or it’s a tip to “Monty Python”), as birds caw, and funeral bells ring. That leads right into the 11-minute “Pallbearer,” a song that shapes and shifts over its lengthy running time, sometimes driving slowly and violently, other times speeding up as if wanting to run full speed off a cliff. Dorrian’s howls of, “War, famine, drought, disease,” ties in the theme of death and demise, and later when he confidently howls, “Gravediggers of the world, unite!” you know he’s not cowering from the end. He’s reveling in it. “Cathedral of the Damned” is like a buzzsaw, with Celtic Frost-like sludgery, Sabbath-influenced guitar work, and slurry, heavy emotion hanging over the song. Of course, there’s Reifert at the tail end delivering his raspy, growly piece, and he’s just right at home on this one. “Tower of Silence” picks up where “Damned” leaves off, continuing to bore its claws into the ground and your psyche, with dizzying riffs, a driving tempo, and Dorrian declaring, “The sun no longer shines.”
The second half of the record kicks off with “Infestation of Grey Death” and its weird, strange keyboard-laced opening, acoustics, and odd passages. Honestly, this is the one song that I can’t totally get with. The vocals and the music feel like they’re trying to do two different things, and as many times as I’ve tried, I just can’t really get along with this one. “An Observation” changes that, however, and the 10:18-long epic starts slowly and eerily, dumping in thick strings and slow, creepy synth that sounds like it’s pulled from a gory B-grade sci-fi film, and the song goes toward psychedelics and prog metal. Before it’s over, it morphs into a thrashy, crunchy masher. “The Last Laugh” is a really bizarre interlude filled with deranged chuckling and Pink Floyd-style strangeness, and that leads us into “This Body, Thy Tomb,” the final Cathedral song ever. “I exist in this coffin,” Dorrian calls, almost like he’s commenting on the legacy of the band, and the song does its best to drop the lid on Cathedral, with Armageddon horns, a slow-driving, menacing pace, weird boiling noises that erupt toward the end of the song, and a spirited, charged-up psychedelic jam that brings the record, and this band’s run, to an end.
Doom fans owe a debt of gratitude to Cathedral for the great work they’ve done over more than two decades, and all of the group’s many disciples should genuflect in front of them for paving the way to their destinies. All great bands deserve to go out on top, absolutely on fire, but few ever do. Cathedral realized the time was right to call it an end, and they delivered one of their finest records of their history. All hail Cathedral. Doom metal wouldn’t be—and won’t be—the same without you.