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Cathedral
Anniversary Harry Sword , December 16th, 2011 12:44

While every doom band owes 'a debt' (their souls, of course) to Black Sabbath, Cathedral have focussed on simply and steadily refining the power of their chosen trajectory – a weighty, groovy and resolutely underground metal that makes no concession whatsoever to the outside musical world. Over nine studio albums, the sound has remained absolutely true to their original vision.

Thematically, there is a comfortingly strong element of fantastical conservatism to Cathedral. Perhaps it's because theirs is a world that is stubbornly 'hobbyist' and essentially teenage in spirit - a place where VHS horror movies, ganja smoke, ludicrously overblown metal imagery and classical occult themes converge on pleasant terms; fiercely independent, wholly immersive, granite hewn and unchanging down the decades.

But now, after 22 years, it seems the end may be in view. They've just played purportedly their last ever show and - while fellow travellers such as Electric Wizard are still going strong – arguably no other doom band have had such lasting influence on the genre; an influence felt not only through a substantial back catalogue, but also the nurturing of a fully fledged scene through vocalist Lee Dorrian's seminal Rise Above imprint.

One final studio album is planned for 2012, but here they offer their first – and very probably last - live LP. Recorded in December 2010 at The Forum, London it's a sprawling two CD package encompassing 20 tracks, amongst which their seminal 1991 debut Forest of Equilibrium is rendered in full.

In the live arena, Cathedral are a surprisingly meditative proposition. The churning drop tuned cyclical riffs, head caving rhythmical hypnoses and fantasy themes are enveloping on their LP's, but it's only on a proper rig that the requisite volume can be reached for true psychic deliverance. In this respect, doom is the dub reggae of the metal world – strong rumbling audio that relies on the sheer physical pressure of sound and extreme volume to open hitherto locked metaphysical zones.

And if the discarnate aspects of doom are best reached live, here Cathedral captures the transcendent most vividly with the eight tracks that make up Forest of Equlibrium. The standard intro of 'Picture of Beauty and Innocence' (replete with wonderfully Tap esq. flute trills and plucked acoustic guitar) gives way to the funeral-paced sludge of 'Commiserating the Celebration (of life)' a track that stirs, dirt slow, into a thick gumbo of scorched moon riffage. 'Serpent Eve', meanwhile, is an even slower and sludgier proposition, hinging around a semi chanted vocal and slumber-inducing riff.

20 years on, it's notable how extreme the Forest of Equilibrium tracks sound in the live setting. The primordial weight is suffocating - they really are very slow tracks – and, in the wrong headspace, it doesn't quite work. But given time they wend their way into your subconscious: the rendition of 'Equilibrium' is a case in point, an arrangement that seems somehow suspended in time, and a masterful exercise in static tension and release.

However, although the lyrical themes have remained unchanging (goblins and dark forests turned up to 11) musically Cathedral has not remained a static outfit. Indeed, you can loosely divide their output into early period sludge, and a more driving later sound (occasionally – hilariously - termed 'disco doom' by some quarters of the mid 90's metal press) that reached its zenith around the 1995 LP The Carnival Bizarre.

Live highlights from that LP abound, with violent executions of fan favourites 'Hopkins, Witchfinder General' and 'Vampire Sun'. The former is Cathedral at their most immediate, with a belting swagger of a riff and gleeful vocal delivery from Dorrian, while the later sees them at their most powerfully groovy.

Elsewhere a storming rendition of 'Soul Sacrifice' offers a welcome spike in tempo range, featuring thrashy passages that betray Dorrian's early years with Napalm Death. This is quickly followed by the ethereal splendor of 'Funeral Request', a swirling and complex brew touching on prog elements. Playing is tight throughout the set and, while showing understandable signs of strain, Dorrian's rich rumbling baritone holds up well . Taking both discs at once may be inadvisable though – after the full Forest of Equilibrium experience on CD 1, only the diehards will be hankering for more.

But while Anniversary is certainly not going to convert any new brethren, this set stands as fine testament to the endearing power of proper metal, done properly. And, for pure escapist audio, you can be sure that this will prove one of the most enduring metal documents of 2011.

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