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Black metal has never been more death-defyingly doom-laden and drudgeful since the coming of CATHEDRAL – the 90s answer to BLACK SABBATH. If one had ever played an Ozzy and Co 45 at 33 rpm, nihilistic grim reapers CATHEDRAL would’ve certainly been the Devil incarnate – or at least in the group’s embryonic, out-of-the-womb phase.
Formed early 1990 in Coventry, England by ex-NAPALM DEATH grunter Lee Dorrian and his best friend Mark “Griff” Griffiths (who’d switched from guitar to bass), the pair roped-in drummer Ben Mochrie (after Andy Baker left), and two former ACID REIGN axemen, Garry Jennings and Adam Lehan. Founding his own Rise Above enterprise, Dorrian’s CATHEDRAL unleashed a four-track demo mini-set, “In Memorium” (1991) – later expanded as IN MEMORIAM (1999) {*6} – a record that significantly included a reading of PENTAGRAM’s `All Your Sins’, significant in the fact that group alumni from this said combo later teamed up with the ungodly CATHEDRAL. Disturbing and dour, diehard doomster Dorrian dished out apocalyptic metal like there was no tomorrow, sour songs such as epics, `Mourning Of A New Day’, `Ebony Tears’ and `March’, dragging their heels on the corpses of the deceased – well… nearly.
The vacant berth of Mochrie having been duly filled by Mike Smail, Earache Records (home to NAPALM DEATH, CARCASS, MORBID ANGEL, et al) came up with a devilish deal to attract CATHEDRAL into putting ink to paper. Opening with a Sabbath-esque intro (`Picture Of Beauty And Innocence’, interpolating the heroic `Comiserating The Celebration (Of Life)’) from debut set proper, FOREST OF EQUILIBRIUM (1991) {*7}, Lee sealed his pact with Lucifer on the riff-tidy, 3-minute `Soul Sacrifice’. The track duly made its re-appearance on an EP the following year, although by this time another “sacrifice” had taken place when Smail had been succeeded by Mark Ramsey Wharton. With Dorrian’s deathly vox now notably more accessible, the group again followed in the much-trodden (CANDLEMASS, SAINT VITUS, etc.) footsteps of Ozzy-era BLACK SABBATH.
A year later, without Griff (who’d later turn up in BLACKSTAR), the grind-merchants became part of Columbia’s dubious drive to carve out a piece of the death-metal market, although Earache (much as with CARCASS) continued to release the band’s material in Britain. THE ETHEREAL MIRROR (1993) {*8} became the band’s most revered set to date, storming live shows highlighting the excellence of “up-tempo” tunes, `Ride’, `Midnight Mountain’ and the 8-minute stoner, `Phantasmagoria’.
But as always the group were subsequently dogged by a series of line-up changes; temp bassist Mike Hickey (of CRONOS) dropping in for 1994’s epic EP, `Statik Majik’, encapsulating the almost prog-length (and styled) `The Voyage Of The Homeless Sapien’; the US equivalent appearing on the `Cosmic Requiem’ EP/mini-set. As previously mentioned, rivals PENTAGRAM donated drummer Joe Hasselvander and guitarist Victor Griffin, when Wharton and Lehan opted out after a MERCYFUL FATE support slot came to a head. The revolving-door aspect of CATHEDRAL ensured both live newbies were not permanent, as they were superseded (late ’94) by bassist Scott Carlson (ex-Repulsion) and drummer Dave Hornyak. Then, as recording took place for album three, newfound “singer” Dorrian, and Jennings (the latter now adding keyboards), concluded their search for blood-brothers, when Leo Smee and Brian Dixon signed on the dotted line.
By the release of THE CARNIVAL BIZARRE (1995) {*8}, CATHEDRAL had turned into a flares and purple-shirted retro-metal act; `Utopian Blaster’ even going as far as to feature guitar icon, Tony Iommi. Having recently played second-fiddle to BLACK SABBATH on tour while they were in transition, the voice of Hammer horror movie star Vincent Price was a touch of genius for attendant single, `Hopkins (Witchfinder General)’; incidentally the group had covered the group WITCHFINDER GENERAL’s `Rabies’; other B-sides of the day ranged from The Crazy World Of ARTHUR BROWN’s `Fire’ to BLACK SABBATH’s `Solitude’, `Wheels Of Confusion’ and `St. Vitus’ Dance’ – no surprise there then.
Taking their sweet leaf from the stoner brigade, a fourth album, SUPERNATURAL BIRTH MACHINE (1996) {*6} was well-received by CATHEDRAL’s loyal congregation, but not every critic was spellbound or drawn to their newfound change of groove. With the ghost of BLACK SABBATH ever-hovering in the wings like a gloomy guardian angel, Dorrian and his cohorts waded through a sea of sonic sludge graced by the best classically heavy metal titles this side of MONSTER MAGNET or JUDAS PRIEST; examples `Cyclops Revolution’, `Suicide Asteroid’, `Magnetic Hole’, `Fireball Demon’, `Stained Glass Horizon’, et al.
1998’s CARAVAN BEYOND REDEMPTION {*7} was another static exercise in retro-style space-rock meltdown, the band even flirting with elements of wah-wah funk, while usually managing a fairly supple groove to supplement the ominous lyrics and harbinger-of-doom lyrics. While larynx-life-forcer Lee had almost mirrored ‘Sabbath in their prog-70s salad days, up to shirking on some sort of departure, something had to give before Dorrian and the ever-stalwart Jennings went the same way as Messrs Ozzy and Iommi. While best tracks `Captain Clegg’, `Voodoo Fire’, `Satanikus Robotikus’ and `Earth Messiah’ played to the Ozzfest brigade, epic curtain callers – the 14-minute `Dust In Paradise’ was in question here – trademarked some sort of “CATHEDRAL” sound.
Having taken the hippie schtick about as far as inhumanly possible, CATHEDRAL welcomed the new millennium with an album billed as a return to their roots. ENDTYME (2001) {*5} attempted to put the grind back into their doom, slothfully slowing things down on opening instrumental/chant salvo, `Cathedral Flames’, although not quite shaking off the more colourful elements and experimentation of their stoner-rock golden period; the coven of CATHEDRAL was again in business on the obligatory closing epic, `Templars Arise! (The Return)’.
2002’s THE VIITH COMING {*7} saw the group take up residence at Dream Catcher Records (Spitfire in the States), and with former grunter Dorrian finding a higher plain equal to that of idol Ozzy – although not as effective or as commercial – they stuck to their grind-core guns. Still, with a loyal fanbase supporting them on live outings, titles such as `Phoenix Rising’, `Aphrodite’s Winter’ and `Iconoclast’, could hardly fail to grab some attention. The David Patchett artwork sleeve designs were as always, outstanding.
Taking time out to dust themselves down after metal seemed destined to be only Yankee dollar domain (METALLICA, KORN, et al, had sewn up the genre commercially), CATHEDRAL, to their credit, never gave up the ghost; but a comeback set for Nuclear Blast: THE GARDEN OF UNEARTHLY DELIGHTS (2005) {*6}, was noted only for its ground-breaking, 28-minute exercise, `The Garden’, and some sort of “Hopkins…” recreation, `North Berwick Witch Trials’.
Long time in the making, comeback double-disc THE GUESSING GAME (2010) {*8} looked to wrap stoner-rock, prog and mystical metal in one glorious groove-friendly ball of cosmic confusion. Almost gone were the chunky Iommi riffs, instead – on `Funeral Of Dreams’ at least – the shifting shapes of TORTOISE-like avant-jazz rhythms wrestled with some grinding grunge. A cock-rock concept that threw in everything but the kitchen sink to bury their Sabbath plundering once and for all, Dorrian, Jennings, Smee and Dixon must’ve rehearsed hard into the long nights to come up with something akin to their own metal aplomb – hard and heavy as that task was. But for the 10-minute, doom-laden `Requiem For The Voiceless’, and back-to-back closer `Journey Into Jade’, they’d achieved this in spades, without digging themselves further into a metallic black hole.
Celebrating two decades in the business, double-CD concert document ANNIVERSARY (2011) {*8} – on the resurrected Rise Above imprint – drew as much from their drudge-ful past exploits as anything from the present; the future was represented by a fresh piece of flesh in `The Last Spire Pt.1 (Entrance)’. From `Comiserating…’ to `Hopkins…’, the cathartic CATHEDRAL proved why, in Old Blighty at least – they were gods among the doom-metal fraternity.
A solid and tight combo for some time now, Smee was their first personnel change in 18 years, as bassist Scott Carlson (a prodigal son from ’95) took up the reins on CATHEDRAL’s tenth studio set proper, THE LAST SPIRE (2013) {*8}. Could it be that the quintessential quartet were thinking of quitting the rat race of rock, well… who could blame them as lesser bands from overseas were ploughing ‘Dral’s pioneering depths and plundering the band’s rightful claim to fortune and fame. Okay, and one’ll say this only once again, maybe their Sabbath traits were off-putting to some, but here in their absolute majesty, Dorrian and Jennings’ wrist-cutters like `Pallbearer’, `Infestation Of Grey Death’, `An Observation’ and `This Body, Thy Tomb’ (clocking in at a culminating 40 minutes!), spanked the arses of a metal music industry too up itself to appreciate class right underneath their turned-up noses. This set would indeed be the band’s legacy – disciples of doom-metal could now shed a little tear.
© MC Strong 1998-2001/GMD / rev-up MCS Dec2013

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