Review Summary: Cathedral bow out very fittingly, with an album that contains some of their greatest songs and is also a strong contender for album of the year.
“The funeral of Cathedral has been a long but gratifying process. Deciding to end the band wasn’t an easy decision to make but we knew deep down in our hearts that it was the right thing to do”.
Two sentences that justify the split of one of Doom Metal’s greatest and longest-running bands. In November 2011, Lee Dorrian announced quite confidently that after almost a quarter of a century, Cathedral would split after releasing their last album and move on to other projects. The aforementioned quotation is taken from the booklet of Cathedral’s last album, the aptly titled “The last spire”, before a brief run-through of the band’s entire career is explained by Rise Records and Chris Chantler. The very idea that the band would split up may have seemed to many devoted fans as quite a shock, but at least they can be safe and happy in the knowledge that the band’s excellent swansong, “The last spire”, serves as a fitting finale to Cathedral’s long-standing career.
Before listening to this album, it should be acknowledged that the band have returned to their Doom Metal roots on “The last spire”, avoiding many of the strange and eerie psychedelic sounds that dominated albums such as “The guessing game” and instead opting for a sound that has much more in common with “Forest of equilibrium” or “The carnival bizarre”. Regardless of whether you like Cathedral or not however, this album should still be given a chance, judging by the gargantuan amount of strange twists and turns the band have incorporated into fifty six minutes of mind-bending, ear-crushing heaviness.
“The last spire” has so much to indulge in that it’s quite hard not to listen to the album more than once. From the spooky eeriness of instrumental opener ‘Entrance to hell’ to the last heavy tones of ‘This body, thy tomb’, there should be at least one thing that will stay with you forever. ‘Pallbearer’ is monumental, a long, slow albeit belligerent song that although proves to be typical of Cathedral’s trademark Doom Metal sound, has plenty of surprises. After six or so minutes of mind-crushing heaviness and atmospheric terror, Gary Jennings’ electric guitar steps out to make way for an acoustic guitar interlude that wouldn’t be out of place on Led Zeppelin’s folk-tinged “III” album, before dragging the listener down to the lowest depths of hell with an insanely catchy, fast-paced guitar rhythm, largely complemented by Brian Dixon’s enigmatic drum work and Scott Carlson’s prominent bass lines.
‘An observation’ serves as an even better example of Cathedral’s excellent song-writing efforts as well as a pinnacle of everything the band have achieved musically since their formation in 1989. As opposed to the longest song on the album, ‘Pallbearer’, ‘An observation’ constantly confuses the listener with its deliberate shifts in tempo, style and moods. Within a mere minute of pure Doom Metal, we are instantly introduced to the psychedelic sounds created by David Moore’s excellent usage of hammond, mellotron, moog and synthesisers, every instrument playing its part in focusing on ten minutes of mind-bending madness. Complementing the heaviness and near flawless perfection of the guitar, drum and bass work, the mellotron seems to be the most prominent instrument here. In fact, no instrument bar the mellotron is played as Dorrian begins to moan broodingly that “I have seen through occult forces another side of life, hungry demons joined in darkness to desecrate my soul” before echoing a very young Pink Floyd midway, as the hammond, moog and synthesisers join what could be regarded as a musically satanic ritual that tortures living souls (or in this case, ears) for all eternity. If you can keep up by that point without pausing the song for a few minutes, then you have a strong pair of ears.
I could go on further about these interesting albeit strange psychedelic effects that Cathedral seem to be incorporating so well into their sound on “The last spire”, but it cannot be forgotten that they are, at heart, a Doom Metal band. ‘Tower of silence’ and ‘Infestation of grey death’ are like two peas in a pod as they are both charged by Dorrian’s haunting voice, mammoth-sized heaviness and earth-shattering atmospheres. Whereas in the former the bass work is most prominent, strongly supporting Garry Jennings’ enigmatic guitar effects, in the latter a sound that strongly resembles a very early Black Sabbath becomes more and more addictive as ‘Infestation of grey death’ progresses, channeling deep, dark and certainly destructive rhythms to the listener’s brain, resulting in a mass of utter chaos and dreadfully heavy tones.
“The last spire” is almost flawless, but there are a few minor flaws to be found, even if they weren't intended to be flaws. You can’t really ignore Dorrian’s ridiculous vocal effects as he slightly overdoes it on ‘Pallbearer’, singing the title of the song for two or three times and as a result lowering the quality already created by every particular instrument. The other thing to note is that, in respect of whatever the band were trying to do with it, instrumental ‘The last laugh’ is extremely unnecessary and unfortunately cuts the flow of the album. The two sudden shifts in style midway through ‘Tower of silence’ and the brilliant ‘An observation’ may throw some listeners into a state of confusion, and may even convince some that Cathedral are just being too experimental for their own good.
Even these minor flaws can’t drag the album’s overall quality down however, and whatever you may have thought of the band’s musical style in the past, “The last spire” still deserves your attention. With flawless instrumentation, a sound that flows almost perfectly from beginning to end, and a general atmosphere that promises to pull you away from consciousness and into the unknown bounds of the deepest, darkest hell, Cathedral’s latest and possibly greatest album serves as a fitting finale to the band’s enigmatic career. It may take some time, but “The last spire” will impress you and at times, make you wonder whether you are in some strange dream or in reality. A definite contender for album of the year, even if that is slightly exaggerating.