Review Summary: A very interesting new direction for the masters of doom.
Cathedral has always been pretty reliable to provide a good dose of heavy grooves, heavy riffs and heavy atmosphere. Their contribution to doom metal is not to be overlooked and they have always been considered as one of the genre’s true showpieces. With all this in the mind, “The Guessing Game” comes across as more than a little surprise. In their newest release, Cathedral delves into uncharted territory, spacey psychedelic breaks, weird instrumentation and progressive arrangements galore.
The massive double record begins with an introduction that manages to be as heavy and hypnotic as it is weird and cosmic, a playful keyboard washing over an epic one chord riff. The album begins in earnest with the monolithic “Funeral of Dreams”. This song works as en excellent representation for the rest of the album, the riffs, though always heavy, are not as doomy as they once were, allowing more hard rock and heavy metal influences to crawl in through the cracks, in fact the album is generally mid-tempo, rather than the dirge-like pace of the past. Sudden “on the dime” drops reminiscent of early 60’s psychedelia, and strange keyboard textures make beautiful wondrous appearances in this song, as they do throughout most of the album.
Cathedral seems to have gotten so into the psychedelic vibe, they actually seem to be at their best here, rather than in their traditional metallic groove. Many of the heavier tunes don’t seem to work as well, “Painting in the Dark” with its awful chorus sticks out as particularly mediocre, while the psych tunes, such as the title track and “Cats, Incense, Candles and Wine” are incredible musical voyages into truly unique territory. The instrumental performances are wonderful throughout, Gary Jennings spits out wonderful guitar solos and beautiful acoustic passages, while Leo Smee (bass) and Brian Dixon (drums) are tight as witches clef right behind him. Mellotrons, violins and flutes create a soundscape completely different from what Cathedral usually pulls off, and most of the time it seems to work great with the riffs.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this record is the legendary Lee Dorrian. His vocals take some getting used to, but after a while it is clear there is no other man for the music. The problem is not his voice, it’s his delivery. Dorrian faces the same problem that has haunted metal legends from Chris Barnes to Dead; his lyrics aren’t necessarily bad he just doesn’t know how to fit them into melodies properly. The difference is Dorrian’s vocals are clean and his vocal melodies often come across as awkward and off-putting, as in the horrendous chorus of “Painting in the Dark” and the otherwise decent “Requiem for the Voiceless”. However, when he does it right the man strikes gold, he is brilliant on “Cats, Incense, Candles and Wine”, and his performance on “The Running Man” (my personal album favorite) is absolutely beautiful.
However the experimentation does not mean Cathedral has lost their powerful edge. Tracks such as “Edwige’s Eyes”, “La Noche del Buque Maldito” and the magnificent “The Running Man” are all rampant with über heavy Sabbath worship, as well as some passages and riffs that seem to draw a bit more from 80’s metal than what the band has done in the past. The tracks simply contain some cosmic, spacey passages, which only make the heavy riffs sound all the more brutal in contrast, and helps keep the relatively long songs flowing, with some very interesting dynamics coming up from time to time.
“The Guessing Game” runs amok with potential, it’s full of moments of musical brilliance, but it’s put down by a few awkward flaws in arrangements and vocal melodies. However the good far outweighs the bad, and if “The Guessing Game” is any indication Cathedral is about to become a very, very interesting band.