By Matt Hinch
Few individuals in the doom metal scene are as revered as Cathedral front man Lee Dorrian. Not only did Dorrian go on to form Cathedral upon his departure from grind legends Napalm Death, he also started Rise Above Records, a label unparalleled in quality releases for over 20 years. His influence over the scene is immeasurable. So it wasn’t without some disappointment that the news came down that The Last Spire would be the final Cathedral album. As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
I must admit, it’s been close to a decade since I’ve listened to Cathedral. Don’t worry, I promptly kicked myself in the ass when I made that realization. And due to the uh, chemical enhancement, and sleep deprivation over those years my working knowledge of Cathedral was sketchy at best. After hearing The Last Spire I immediately kicked myself harder. Pure, unadulterated doom of this caliber should not go ignored. Ever.
There’s no better way to start a doom record than “Entrance to Hell”. Crows cawing as the bells of the plague cart echo through the streets. A heavy drone and feedback deliver and uncomfortable air as the chant of “bring out your dead”” repeats and changes in intensity. It doesn’t get any more apocalyptic than that. Speaking of apocalyptic, those are the kinds of riffs Cathedral deal in starting with the epic “Pallbearer”. Guitarist Gaz Jennings, drummer Brian Dixon and bassist Scott Carlson (Repulsion) flatten the listener under the shear weight of sound behind Dorrian’s signature vocals. His chants of “War. Famine. Drought. Disease.” bring to mind all the worst of the world’s ills. Purson’s Rosalie Cunningham lends her vocal talents to the track as well as giving it an eerie feeling. Cunningham’s voice can be heard elsewhere as well. An acoustic break ups the melancholy factor past the halfway mark of this 11+ minute masterpiece. The track also marks the appearance of David Moore’s contribution on synth/organ/moog. “Pallbearer” kicks into high gear around the eight minute mark, hurtling the listener toward their demise.
“Cathedral of the Damned” features guest vocals from Autopsy’s Chris Reifert. The churning and grating riffs plow ahead with unstoppable momentum. No one doubts Cathedral’s influence on a number of bands and the tone on this track reminds one quite a bit of bands such as Hooded Menace. Reifert’s growly passage is especially menacing sandwiched between the crush of the track’s immense riffs. The Sabbathian-to-the-next-level doom continues on “Tower of Silence”. In typical Cathedral fashion waste is laid as the track rolls on leaving a path of monumental destruction in its wake. The simple riffs rumble and roll as if mired in the sands of time. It’s impossible to listen without a furrowed brow.
Things get disgusting on “Infestation of Grey Death”. Dorrian’s vocals take on a tone even more depressing while the track itself is a little more up-tempo. Only in cadence however, as the song is still crushingly heavy. Hearing “Infestation” may remind one of the influence Cathedral has had on the vocal styles of current Rise Above artists Moss and Witchsorrow. On “An Observation” Moore’s keyed accents are back along with some strings. The song moves at a snail’s pace in sinister doom fashion with more backing vocals from Cunningham. Every note moves mountains. Halfway through things take a left turn getting all synth and psychedelic with Moore getting wicked trippy. The psych feel weaves in and out between the shifting rhythms of the album. Over 40 minutes in and Cathedral show no signs of easing up.
The final nail in Cathedral’s coffin is the aptly titled “This Body, Thy Tomb”. Dorrian and Co. may just have saved the most deathly plodding track for last. Holding the notes for maximum impact, lethargy dominates. Despite the fact that this is the end of the road, Cathedral seem in no hurry to make it to the end. Mournful notes infiltrate over field recordings of gently moving water or perhaps the paddle of Charon pushing the ferry across the River Styx carrying Cathedral to the afterlife. The Last Spire, and Cathedral completes its journey on the back on gigantic riffs with waves of moog holding high the flag of doom for all to see.
Obviously fans of Cathedral don’t want to see the band hang it up. But over the course of over 20 years and 10 full length albums, Cathedral has provided doom fans more than ample material to satisfy their urges. Cathedral’s legacy will live on in the sound of other bands but there will only be one Cathedral. Fans can take solace in the fact that their final album stands up to anything else in their career and is not a weak effort in the least. The Last Spire completes the Cathedral. From the foundation to the highest towers, the structure built by Dorrian will stand the test of time. Cheers to Dorrian and Cathedral for going out on a high note. At least we still have Rise Above Records!
(Rise Above / Metal Blade)