I have an odd relationship with Cathedral: While I have enjoyed much of the band’s work over the years, I feel the band never lived up to the potential for doom dominance displayed on its debut, Forest of Equilibrium. I am not immune to the charms of “Midnight Mountain”, “Hopkins”, etc., but there is a discernible shift in sound between the band’s first and second records, and post-Forest Cathedral has always sounded a little goofy to me — rifftastic, but goofy. In some ways Cathedral itself must recognize that its first record is special, because when the band played a show in London last year to mark its twentieth anniversary, it performed two sets. The first of these sets featured Forest of Equilibrium in its entirety, with the original line-up! The second set saw the band’s current (at the time) line-up performing songs from the rest of its catalogue. The entirety of the anniversary concert has been released as a double-disc set entitled, aptly, if unimaginatively, Anniversary.
Cathedral’s performance of Forest of Equilibrium is, with one exception, a triumph. In addition to Cathedral stalwarts Lee Dorrian and Gaz Jennings, the band is joined by founding bassist Mark “Griff” Griffiths, original guitarist Adam Lehan, and ex-Dream Death drummer Mike Smail (who performed as a session musician on Forest). Despite the fact that Forest of Equilibrium had never before been performed in its entirety, and that Smail had never before played live with the band, Cathedral renders a near note-perfect version of this monolithic doom classic. The most notable contribution comes from Lehan, who was tragically forced to leave the band in 1993 due to hearing damage. Lehan’s axe is not only an absolutely essential brick in building Forest of Equilibrium’s massive wall of sound, but also in bringing to life the numerous harmonies and solos that play foil to the oppressive riffage. The only exception to the excellence is Lee Dorrian’s vocal performance: Try though he might, Dorrian cannot quite recreate the cavernous growls that he performed on Forest twenty years ago. This should not come as a surprise, as this style of singing all but vanished from the band’s music by its third record, but it is nonetheless disappointing as Dorrian’s gravelly croon was an essential part of Forest’s mournful atmosphere.
Anniversary’s second disc is composed of the “hits”, if Cathedral can be said to have any. The song selection for this set might prove controversial, as the entire middle of Cathedral’s career from Supernatural Birth Machine through The VIIth Coming is unrepresented. However, as with many bands, Cathedral made its strongest music early in its career, and the decision to focus primarily on material from The Ethereal Mirror and The Carnival Bizarre is not without merit. The disc does get off to an awkward start, though, with “Funeral of Dreams” from the band’s last album, The Guessing Game. which MetalReview’s own Jeremy Witt characterized as a bit of a prog-rock mess, and judging from this track, I am glad I gave that album a pass. The rest of the set, however, finds Cathedral in top form. Gaz proves himself to be every bit the Iommi-an riff-meister on stage that he is on record. Dorrian, for his part, seems much more comfortable with this material, and his performances more closely resemble the studio versions of the songs in this set. Long time rhythm section Brian Dixon and Leo Smee deftly handle the groove that is so essential to Cathedral’s music, and, in fact, shine all the brighter in the absence of the extra guitar tracks present on the studio recordings.
Highlights of Disc Two include the disco-doom of the aforementioned “Midnight Mountain” and set closer “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)”, both high-energy tracks that are well suited to the live environment. Also strong is the funky and melodic “Cosmic Funeral” from the Statik Majik EP, and the Celtic Frost-ed pummeling of “Upon Azrael’s Wings” from The Garden of Unearthly Delights.
In the wake of Cathedral’s decision to hang it up next year after a final studio album, Anniversary serves as a fine summation of the band’s lengthy and productive career. This two-hour-plus doom extravaganza is probably overkill for Cathedral neophytes, but for hardcore fans of this nigh-legendary act, Anniversary is a must-have.