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Cathedral
Guessing Game Noel Gardner , April 20th, 2010 05:59

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There should probably be a term to describe that lyrical turn of phrase where a musical group incorporates the titles of previous songs or albums into the words of a new track. My populist instinct says that this would be best known as a Glass Onion, after John Lennon's weary and patronising riposte to Beatles fans who read excessive meaning into his verbiage; yet the practice has been taken up with a greater enthusiasm by James Brown, Public Enemy and most new rappers in the last decade. It's also the predominant feature of 'Journey Into Jade', which is not an undeveloped Living TV pilot show from last year but the final track on the ninth album by titans of British doom metal, Cathedral.

Gleefully corned-up even by the standards of a band who have rarely been afraid to paddle in goofy whimsy, 'Journey Into Jade' exists, lyrically speaking, for Lee Dorrian to rhetorically ponder: "Twenty years it's been / What will the future bring?" – in between reeling off all their album titles, in order. "We walked into the forest of equilibrium / Then 'The Ethereal Mirror' came in '93." The best thing about all of this is the image conjured up of Dorrian checking the band's Wikipedia entry, just to be sure.

The Guessing Game is a landmark Cathedral release: not only because it marks two decades not out, but also due to being their first studio album to spill over the edges of a single CD. It's certainly not the longest-feeling 13 tracks and 85 minutes ever foisted on the public, but had a band signed to Rise Above, the label Dorrian runs, handed in an equivalent assignment, you feel he might have been a bit quicker to locate parts ripe for trimming. Kudos of sorts to Nuclear Blast, Cathedral's latest imprint, for such blithe indulgence in belt-tightening times.

'Funeral Of Dreams' gets the album's special guest – Alison O'Donnell of early 70s Irish folk cultists Mellow Candle – out of the way near the inception. Cathedral, Dorrian especially, were jocking cheesecloth psych-folk bands like Mellow Candle back when pretty much no-one gave a shit, which kind of makes you makes you wonder why O'Donnell is such a desultory presence on this one. Really, it could be pretty much anyone harmonising on the chorus. It's still a pretty solid tune, though, condensing all the woollyheadedness of the frontman's triplicate grounding in metal, anarcho punk and folk-rock into one mirthsome anti-The Man screed. "One day a scarecrow greeted me / My mind began to see / The truth unfolding... A life of misery / They want for you and me / Just drink and be merry / Start the wheels turning!" The steak-and-caramel combination of echoey jazz bass and rocket-taking-off stoner parts works too, albeit perversely.

Despite The Guessing Game's unprecedented level of indulgence, you could make a decent case for it being an ideal starting point to ease a Cathedral ignoramus into the band's self-contained world. Especially if they're not a metal diehard. As well as O'Donnell's brief showing, there are flutes and Mellotrons waltzing all over 'Death Of An Anarchist' – this is probably just me showing my age and musical grounding, but the first thirty seconds sounds incredibly like it was cribbed from Stereolab's Dots And Loops. And do I honestly need to explain how a song called 'Cats, Incense, Candles & Wine' isn't entirely holding it down for the Witchfinder General backpatch / imaginary meth habit doom metal set? Well, it starts as a feathery folk jam where Dorrian is cold chillin' at home with the listed accessories, before giving in a little and laying some Deviants-y dropout boogie on you.

As has often been the case from their mid-90s handbrake turn into crypto-disco goodtymery onwards, the band can cook up a workable party soundtrack. Bassist Leo Smee's equivalent position in Chrome Hoof, which he founded with his brother in 2000, is not irrelevant here, one feels. Gaz Jennings (aside from Dorrian, Cathedral's only surviving O.G. member) sounds like he's trying to stomp his wah pedal six feet deep through most of 'Casket Chasers'; a phantasmagorical pirate theme is wedded to strongly reverbed vox and biker metal breakdowns for – by the title, fairly warned again thee be – 'La Noche Del Buque Maldito (aka Ghost Ship Of The Blind Dead)'. Even the one legitimately lumbering doom crawler, the ten-minute 'Requiem For The Voiceless', starts off with an overlong sample from what sounds like a kids' cartoon about animals – this being a heart-on-sleeve pro-animal rights song which, lyrically, is textbook Conflict.

Cathedral have never been, or proclaimed to be, the heaviest or gloomiest or most innovative or virtuosic band on the circuit. In the main, they have intentionally walked a tightrope between hailing their forebears (check the list of dedications on their 1991 debut, Forest Of Equilibrium) and zoning into their own unique mini-universe. In a limited but genuine way, this has rendered them an institution of heavy metal, which explains 'Journey Into Jade', the 85 minutes, and the twenty years.

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