Cathedral
The Carnival Bizarre


4.5
superb

Review

by rockandmetaljunkie USER (35 Reviews)
February 12th, 2015 | 37 replies


Release Date: 1995 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Second only to Sabbath’s early work, this is probably the most coherent collection of riffs in the history of Heavy Metal.

Line up:

Lee Dorrian - Vocals & Percussion
Brian Dixon - Drums & Percussion
Leo Smee - Bass & Mellotron
Garry Jennings – Guitars, Mellotron, Keyboards & Percussion

Additional Musicians:

Tony Iommi - Guitar solo on Utopian Blaster
Kenny Ball - Trumpet
Mitch Dickinson - Gong

The background
Cathedral’s early years were marked by a series of unfortunate events: The band survived a turbulent period as they went through an identity crisis, endless line-up changes and psychological frustration, resulting from their mutual rescission with a major record company. Uncertainty and doubt plunged the band in a cloud of disbelief and Cathedral faced dissolution. It was a period of crisis for the band. Adam Lehan and Mark Wharton resigned from their duties, each one for their own different reasons. Adam had decided to leave because he couldn’t deal with too much workload, plus the conditions at the time were not ideal. Mark Wharton was on the verge of being fired because, according to Dorrian, “he didn’t behave very well”. He quitted and made everyone’s life easier, thus, leaving the band with only two members, Dorrian and Jennings. With the Black Sabbath tour just around the corner, Cathedral acted quickly and hired some replacements just for the live shows. It was during that time when the band met their idol, Tony Iommi. Thanks to his advice, the band endured and flourished. Dorrian recalls:

The first show with Gaz on guitar was actually in Budapest or Prague if I remember well and that same evening, right after we’re done with our set, Tony Iommi came straight to our dressing room telling us that we sounded fantastic that way and that we should stick to that formula. And when you hear one of your favorite guitar players of all time saying that, there’s no turning back afterwards!


The Iommi factor
One can understand that Tony as a role model possesses the power of persuasion. Because he’s been held in such a high regard by his peers and fellow musicians alike, his opinion matters to a lot of people. And it matters a lot. For some folks like Jennings and Dorrian, his words can be definite. It is actually a little bit weird if you think about it; by the time Tony had made his proposal, the future of the band was sealed. The search of a second guitarist was over. Cathedral would proceed with Jennings as its sole guitar player. The remaining band members cared little for what the rest of the world would say. Tony Iommi had spoken his mind and that’s all that mattered.


The album
When the tour with Black Sabbath was over, Jennings and Dorrian made an audition to find replacements. Brian Dixon and Leo Smee were chosen among 50 other participators and all together, they entered the studio to begin a partnership that would last 16 lucrative years. The first product of this line-up is inarguably Cathedral’s most mature and coherent album to date. What accidentally began on Soul Sacrifice as “groove laden-Doom Metal”, here, is finally perfected. The Carnival Bizarre is the album where Cathedral nails down their formula of neo-Black Sabbath groovy riffs, fast-pace instrumentation and drug-influenced psychedelia. The band presents us a meticulous interpretation of post-apocalyptic fairytales, monstrous grooves of colossal-sized riffs and a macabre world view based on dread, madness and medieval, gothic horrors. And while doing so with such ease, they manage to compose some of the catchiest, most addictive tunes I personally have ever heard in the genre. If you find the majority of Doom Metal music to be a boring and repetitive affair, then Cathedral is the band you need to start discovering and The Carnival Bizarre is the first album you need to expose your ears into. Rarely has an album labeled as Doom or Stoner to sound as fresh and vivid as this one.

At the beginning of their careers, many bands share something common: Their first recordings define the sound they will choose to follow. The identity of the band is shaped in those albums. If you pay close attention, you can spot a sense of continuity between these records. Cathedral, however, is one of the exceptions. If you listen to their first three albums, you’ll find out that there is no continuity between them. There is no steadiness. No common lines. However, what make Cathedral so different from their competitors are the outstandingly positive results. All you have is just a bunch of guys who struggle to unlock the limits of their musicianship. And, by allowing the process of refinement and reinvention to last three or four years, they don’t stumble, but instead, they deliver some of the most infectious ideas and riffs of their entire career. The endless line-up changes definitely played their role and so did the ambitious spirit that this group retained over the years, despite having to endure so many changes in the band personnel.

So make no mistake, this album isn’t anything like its predecessor, just as The Ethereal Mirror was a totally different case with Forest. It is an album with its own identity and there’s a different story waiting to be told. Although traits of old school Metal are still present, Carnival is less adventurous than Mirror but far more accessible, because the music sounds more simplistic and straight to the point. The gap between the first two albums is also narrowed; even if Carnival isn't as exploratory as Mirror, it’s more progressive than Forest. Also, the Stoner Rock vibe is obviously given in larger quantities. For the first time in their career, Cathedral are clearly emphasizing on a retro production with a desire to highlight the traits that are associated with what we call today Stoner Rock; mid to fast tempos, a heavily distorted bass, emphasis on groove and so on. If the first two albums were landmarks of Doom Metal, then The Carnival Bizarre is Cathedral’s gift to those with a taste for Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, Kyuss and Sleep.
Not all songs are tales about mushrooms and weed though. Night of the Seagulls, which shares a similar zombie-like mood with Enter the Worms, is straight Doom Metal and Palace of Fallen Majesty sounds like a forgotten track from previous recording sessions. It really sounds as if it was written at the same time with The Ethereal Mirror.
Aside from its obvious Stoner Rock traits, The Carnival Bizarre is clearly an album written by an entirely different band. Cathedral has grown a lot since the recording of their first album, but most importantly, they seem to know what direction to take in the studio and how to convey their emotions and ideas. It’s not a surprise that this album is where they manage to polish their unique sound and “explain” to the audience specifically what their style is all about and how it “works”. The title track is the perfect example of how Cathedral fuses all the elements of their influences into one song to make it the perfect astral journey.

Further on, another notable difference with previous albums is the way the guitar sounds. From his early days as a professional musician in Acid Reign, Jennings was an avid fan of guitars equipped with Floyd Rose tremolos. He used such guitars to record the first two Cathedral albums, but his relationship with the tremolos didn't last long. Following the recording sessions of the Statik Majik EP, he started using the Gibson SG guitar. It’s possible that he decided to switch right after his encounter with Tony Iommi. The SG gave Jennings an unbelievably crunchy but clean tone with less sludge and higher gain. The production surely takes some credit for how The Carnival Bizarre sounds, but Jennings’s choice to use a different guitar was simply spot on. Nonetheless, choosing the ideal instrument is just the foreplay. Jennings’s main strength is his riffs, which are just amazing. He was always a prolific songwriter, but by the time of Carnival he just excelled himself. There are moments on this record however that further proves what an amazing guitar player he has become. It’s not just his riff-making abilities, it’s the whole package. Garry has evolved into a versatile guitarist, fully capable of using multiple guitar sections of phrases, tones and all kinds of effects to affect the progression of a song. There’s a moment in the title track where Gary moves from an ambient section of a psychedelic-phasing guitar tone to a thoughtful guitar solo with an overdubbed riff that guides the song to its conclusion. Almost every one of the remaining nine songs is composed around small alterations like this one with Dorrian singing lyrics about fantasy themes full of grotesque and Jennings’s guitar serving as the musical equivalent of the ethereal lyrical topics.

Finally, many might wonder what Cathedral lost with Lehan’s departure and what they gain with Garry stepping up as the main composer. In my opinion, Adam is more of a Blues/Hard Rock fan and his style is influenced by a large number of guitar players. Garry is an obvious Tony Iommi devotee. His style, his riffs, his solos, everything in his playing is hard evidence that this guy sleeps with a physical copy of Black Sabbath’s debut under his pillow. So, Adam’s departure meant that Cathedral kind of lost the blues element in their music but gained heaviness in return.

If you are searching desperately to find any flaws in this record, all I can do is wish you, “good luck with that”. It is most likely you will waste your time with this pointless investigation. Don’t get me wrong. This album is not flawless. But it’s only for consistency levels alone that it doesn't go toe-to-toe with The Ethereal Mirror. Carnival kicks off with five equally astonishing tracks but from there on, the band fails to maintain the same levels of quality. That doesn’t mean that the rest of the songs are not as good or well written, just…well, less exciting.

The Carnival Bizarre is the final chapter in Cathedral’s great trilogy of extremely well-written albums and rounds up their most productive period of their 20-plus career. From here on, their inspiration will sort of dry out as the band will try to expand their ideas and add more styles to their music with the final results however being less inspiring.

Recommended Tracks:
Vampire Sun
Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)
Utopian Blaster
Night of the Seagulls
Carnival Bizarre



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Cathedral The Ethereal MirrorCathedral Soul Sacrifice
user ratings (132)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
rockandmetaljunkie
February 11th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

For those who want to avoid the foreplay and read the juice, they can skip to the album section.

rockandmetaljunkie
February 11th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Now that I finished Cathedral's "first era", I will take a short break. I will review three or four albums from different artists before continuing with the rest of their discography.

PsychicChris
February 11th 2015


269 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Feels like you're writing a novel with the extensive backgrounds but it's a pretty damn interesting novel I'd say. I've always liked this album but the second half kinda brings it down for me. Pos for you, good sir.

rockandmetaljunkie
February 11th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

haha, thanks Chris.



Sometimes I just can't help it buddy, I feel the urge to share all the info I got. It also feels kind of

natural because I've studied journalism in a school for journalists and it was part of my training to

constantly writing essays of 350-500 words.

SharkTooth
February 11th 2015


13794 Comments


Your review pretty much sold me, I'm jamming this when I get the chance

rockandmetaljunkie
February 11th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm pretty sure you'll have one hell of a good time Shark.



love that pic btw

SharkTooth
February 11th 2015


13794 Comments


Yeah it made my say the first time I saw it

ksoflas
February 12th 2015


1187 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Auto pos.

Great review for my favorite Cathedral album.

ksoflas
February 12th 2015


1187 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Keep on writing man.

EvoHavok
February 12th 2015


7305 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Massive! And well-written, of course. Album's a jam.

I'd suggest, however, replacing "t/t" with "title track" since I find it rather unfitting to use that abbreviation in such a long review.

rockandmetaljunkie
February 12th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks Ksoflas

"my favorite Cathedral album"



then what's keeping you from rating it ?



"Keep on writing man."



That's the plan. Do you have any suggestions ?



@EvoHavok

"I'd suggest, however, replacing "t/t""



Will do so man, thanks for reading.

ksoflas
February 12th 2015


1187 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Fly to the rainbow or Taken by force, Born Again, Another Perfect Day, smt from Rory or whatever you like John.

rockandmetaljunkie
February 12th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I have reviewed Fly to the Rainbow and Taken by Force and the other albums you mention are already reviewed.

But I will do some Gallagher reviews. For now I have to finish Cathedral's discog.

TheNotrap
February 13th 2015


8641 Comments


Good work Rock.
I never heard this album.

You need to check his vocals on Mentally Murdered.

Digging: Desolate Shrine - Deliverance From The Godless Void

rockandmetaljunkie
February 13th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks Trap. You should check this out. Who knows, you might even like it.



Why did you stop writing reviews ?

rockandmetaljunkie
February 13th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

huggy bear oh yeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh

TheNotrap
February 13th 2015


8641 Comments


I guess I lost interest and unfortunately I haven't had much free time lately.

rockandmetaljunkie
February 13th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"You need to check his vocals on Mentally Murdered."



I have heard the two albums he did with Napalm Death, his growling vocals are incredible.

TheCrocodile
September 9th 2015


2926 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Title track is monstrous!

rockandmetaljunkie
September 9th 2015


6934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

whole album is monstrous



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