How far would you go to create the right feel for an album?
Lee Dorrian, of Cathedral, decided that a record of this nature really needed authenticity. He, through all means possible, made himself as depressed as possible during the recording of 1991's Forest of Equilibrium.
Now, that could be a review of this record in itself. But there is so much, oh so much more to Forest of Equilibrium than that.
I'm writing this review because Decibel inducted this record into their hall of fame but there was no review for it on here! More people need to know about how influential this was. Before this, Doom Metal was simply heavy metal with an obsession with Black Sabbath (eg. Candlemass).
Most of the members of Cathedral have extreme-metal backgrounds, Lee Dorrian especially (first vocalist for grindcore stalwarts Napalm Death). They too worship Black Sabbath, but they also inject a crushing, Death Metal sound into their music whilst also being slower than all other Doom bands at the time.
The first thing you notice about Forest is the cover art. It looks so gloomy and twisted, it depicts a character running through a forest of weird, bizarre creatures. Dave Patchett really captured the lost, fantastical nature of Cathedral's music. One of the best covers ever.
The album opens with a small, cheery intro of acoustic guitar and flute. This makes me smile and really represents innocence; like the first track from Ulver's Bergtatt it is jolly and happy but you can tell something big is coming. The distorted guitar quickly fades in and already you see how craphouse the production job on this is. Which is what makes the album so good!
The production really gives you the sense of being lost in a vast, spooky forest. I don't mean that in a Norwegian, Black Metal sense, I mean it like a lush, green forest in England during the Middle Ages. It's like someone has been cast out into this forest for being a leper or something, and they're trying to find their way back.
Everything on this album is loaded with reverb to help make the spacey, lost atmosphere except for the rhythm guitar which overpowers everything and smacks you in the face. Lee's vocals are overdubbed on almost every track to make it seem that much more ominous. The drums actually help with the atmosphere because they're so far back in the mix and have so much reverb sloshed over them, they sound like they're miles away.
The mixing on this is definitely done well, it brings out the crushing guitars, but the problem is that the CD as a whole has no volume. You have to turn the volume on your CD player up extremely loud to get any heaviness out of this.
On this album, Gaz Jennings plays lead guitar and Adam Lehan plays rhythm and the acoustic guitars. They definitely pair up to make a pummeling sound, the first track especially has a crushing "chugga chugga" riff that will get your body moving. But what sets the guitarwork on this album apart from the rest is the melodies. My Dying Bride are the only other Doom band I've heard that make regular use of melody. Gaz's melodies are definitely some of the darkest and saddest sounding things you'll ever hear based on the guitat tone alone.
The track with the best guitarwork is definitely Equilibrium. The first half of the track sees them pairing up to deliver a series of grooving, sludgey riffs straight into your eardrum. The second half is the best part of this album and one of my favourite musical moments of all time, which is simply Gaz playing a simple melody over Adam's crushing chords. This melody literally hypnotises you, like a spell from the forest trapping you forever. It ends with an amazing, well-written solo that fades out wonderfully.
Mike Smail's drumming is of course remarkable, anyone that can keep everything in time at such a slow tempo has got to be good. And he does very suitable fills, very grandiose and big. Sadly, for most of the album the cymbals are non-existant, which is a shame because he had massive cymbals when recording this. Of course his drums are massive and powerful even when pushed back into the mix. And he's a studio drummer, even better.
The bass, although pushed back into the mix, does make its presence felt. Mark Griffiths plays on this, and although he isn't as involved as bassists usually are in bands like this, he still occasionally pops up to make you go "oh, there's bass on this". He does a sweet little intro to Ebony Tears.
Lee Dorrian shared lyrical duties with Gaz and Mark, and they generally write about doomy, fantastical subjects like serpents in Serpent Eve. Lee still has some quasi-political rambling to do in Equilibrium. His singing is definitely bizarre, he's not quite growling but rather he's doing a really low moan. It works to great effect, especially with the overdubbing, but after a while you do hear that he's clearly trying to get his voice lower than it can go, which just doesn't work, buddy. But kudos to him for changing the vocal style of Doom forever.
Not all the tracks on Forest are slow, sludgey monsters. Soul Sacrifice is short, snappy, upbeat and jolly. It's reminiscent of Cathedral's work from The Ethereal Mirror onwards. A Funeral Request also has a bit where they all go top speed, the guitar is really grating here.
In Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain, the band goes into full-blown depression mode. Throughout most of the verses the flute returns to improvise over the destructive guitar which is incredibly eerie and, once again, helps give the picture of a big forest. There is also a reverb-laden acoustic guitar which is really painful. Lee's singing is incredibly drawn-out and miserable. The track ends with a guy fiddling around on a keyboard, which is really scary and spooky.
Cathedral changed Doom forever with this release. It isn't as terribly morbid and depressing as My Dying Bride, Nortt and other such obsessive maniacs, but it's still guaranteed to ruin your mood. It's more eerie and magical than sad, really.
If you're a fan of Doom, you've already got this album. If you'd like to get into the heavier side of Doom without going straight into the deep-end, give this a shot. It was worth the 3 month wait for the stupid store to get it in, and it is rightfully named a Doom classic.
Recommended tracks; it's hard to pick favourites, but I'd say Equilibrium and Comiserating the Celebration.