Review Summary: Though the band have now split, Cathedral's career high-point is definitely displayed within the wild heart of The ethereal mirror.
Now that the members of Cathedral have gone their separate ways, it seems a fitting time and place to commemorate that nostalgic period of the band's career, the period which gave the world instant classics of the Doom Metal genre such as Forest of equilibrium
, The ethereal mirror
and The carnival bizarre
. For those who remember listening to the haunting overtones of those albums for the first time, and becoming mesmerized by the gargantuan, mammoth-sized doom-laden riffs which never hindered the overall musical quality, it is inevitable that The ethereal mirror
is often regarded as Cathedral's true musical peak, and there are many, many reasons for that.
The ethereal mirror
marked a big musical change for Cathedral. Yes, the dark, hellishly doomy musical effects were still there in spades (“Enter the worms”, “Jaded entity”, “Phantasmagoria”), but there was still something about the album overall which distanced itself from its gloomy predecessor. Perhaps it was the more upbeat (Note: NOT uplifting) nature of the stoner rock-influenced “Rise”, the surprising catchiness of “Midnight mountain” or even the sudden acoustic interludes towards the end of “Grim luxuria” and throughout album closer “Imprisoned in flesh”. Whatever it was, everyone who listened to The ethereal mirror
knew that this didn't sound like the band who produced Forest of equilibrium
That said, The ethereal mirror
is near enough flawless. In fact, as close to flawless as Cathedral have ever come in their entire career. The instrumentation is heavier and more experimental, Dorrian's vocals are eerier than Vincent Price in his prime, and the atmosphere, unsurprisingly, matches that of a mass-murder funeral. Just listen to the consistently disturbing sounds of “Enter the worms”. The beginning sounds like it would accompany a fresh horde of zombies, and from that point onwards the song itself only seems to drag you down ever further into a blackened abyss. The same thing can be felt throughout the rest of the album, particularly on the more laid-back nature of “Fountain of innocence” and the varied vocal range of Dorrian's cackling voice on “Jaded entity”. However, this arsenal of doom-laden songs are well balanced by a more groove-oriented, sometimes bluesier tone. This can be found in the upbeat “Midnight mountain”, stoner-rock influenced “Rise” and the unsettling grooves found deep within “Grim Luxuria”.
Musical changes aside however, the one thing which made The ethereal mirror
as effective as it is today is definitely the instrumentation. Not to say that Dorrian didn't play a respectably big role in the production of Cathedral's second album, but Jennings, Whartone and Lehan really breathed fresh sounds into the mix with their respective instruments. Jennings adds a crushingly heavy guitar tone to every song bar the intro and outro of the album, Whartone's powerful drumming brings an extra crunch or two to the recording and Lehan's bass rumbles throughout most of the songs to a grinding albeit satisfying halt. In particular the perfectly consistent “Enter the worms” and “Fountain of innocence” are largely helped by a solid, monumental rhythm section. Throughout both of those songs, everything just sounds so natural and you can really feel the ambition of the band's teamwork pouring through, and it's only a matter of time before the album is finished, and you're left feeling so excited that you just have to push the replay button again and again.
The ethereal mirror
, if not timeless, is most definitely worthy of any metalhead's album collection. You might not approve of Dorrian's particular vocal style in the end, but there's always going to be something within Cathedral's second album which will turn heads. It is (and was, two decades ago) simply an exercise in producing a consistent, mesmerizing set of songs which shows all sides of the band's musical extravaganza, the experimentation very rarely failing to surpass the band's heavier doom-laden sounds.