Cathedral – Anniversary

By Craig Haze

It’s odd to think that if it wasn’t for a combination of absenteeism and a mother’s wrath then an album as magnificent as Cathedral‘s new live disc Anniversary wouldn’t even exist. If that woman had turned up for work on Tony Iommi’s last day at his factory job—and someone really needs to send her a ‘thank you’ card for skiving off that day—then Tony wouldn’t have been working on that cutting machine. And if Tony’s mother hadn’t chastised him for thinking of skipping his last shift then his fingertips would have remained attached and we wouldn’t be discussing the impending demise of one of the finest doom bands Britain ever produced.

Cathedral’s announcement in February this year that they were retiring after 21 years, nine full-lengths and a plethora of EPs was disheartening, to say the least. The band’s last album, The Guessing Game, was a superb release that injected an even bigger dose of oddball ’70s prog and psychedelia into their grandiose doom-laden sound. It was an album full of promise, suggesting abundant, fertile prospects for the band.

However, it’s not to be, and although one more full-length, The Last Spire, is due to be delivered in ’12, this past year has seen the winding up of Cathedral as a touring entity. In honor of their recent 20th anniversary, and surely a tip-of-the-hat thank you to their long time fans, the band reunited its original lineup in late ’10 for a run-through of their debut album Forest of Equilibrium. It was a double set evening, and in what must have been an orgy of end-times delight, the band’s current lineup also played a selection of latter day material. Both sets were recorded and the result is a magnificent two-disc release.

I read with great interest recently a little online chat about the irrelevance of live albums. It was a fascinating insight into how short-sighted some metal fans can be. There are umpteen millions of dedicated fans who never get to see the bands they love perform live because they are geographically isolated from major touring circuits. That’s why live albums are important, and that’s why they mean an awful lot to fans like myself, tucked away in far corners of the world. Accordingly, my expectations were set at maximum for Anniversary, not only because Cathedral are one of my favorite doom bands, but also because my opportunity to ever see them live is now gone. The band’s new release is the closet I’ll ever get to hearing them in full-flight.

Thankfully, Anniversary it is just as rough and visceral as I’d hoped it would be. Capturing the whimsical mood of the band perfectly, the first disc, comprised of the band playing Forest of Equilibrium in its entirety, is a coarse dirge-laden affair. The scratchy edge to the mix means all that gloom and despair is rendered even more woeful and palpable, and with touches of feedback squealing away here and there it all sounds suitably unrefined.

All the instrumentation is right up front, there’s a hellishly good bottom-end and you can hear every nuance of every dirty graduation. And with all that clarity the transition between tracks, like the sludgy drone-out “Serpent Eve” melding into “Soul Sacrifice” means every little crawling, fuzzy ruse is on display. The epic tracks “Commiserating the Celebration (Of Life)”, “A Funeral Request” and “Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain” have all the sluggard moroseness you could ever want to hear, and with vocalist Lee Dorrian on fine form—baying to the moon with plenty of gruffness—everything sounds delightfully wretched.

Anniversary has a great vintage vibe, and with the slightest of nods to their eccentricity and melodramatic tendencies, the band plows through the second disc, which finds the current lineup presenting a range of post-Forest of Equilibrium material. “Hopkins (Witchfinder General)” is there, of course, my favorite Cathedral track by far, and it’s hammered out with unbridled abandon. “The Carnival Bizarre”, “Midnight Mountain” and “Ride” get the stoner juices flowing with plenty of spiraling riffs, and by the time the penultimate track “Vampire Sun” rolls in, with Dorrian encouraging the crowd to get high, you’re already there.

All up, Anniversary is exactly what I hoped it would be. A mucky snail-paced trawl through the band’s debut, followed up by an unrestrained romp across the years. There’s obviously a wealth of material not on the second career-spanning disc, but I guess with only one side to play with you pick your best. I’ve no complaints. If this is the last live disc from the band—and fingers crossed they’ve recorded other shows—then Cathedral have gone out on a high. For anyone like myself who never had the opportunity of seeing the band live, Anniversary is a rare treat.

(Rise Above/Metal Blade)

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.