Cathedral Mixtape: Doom with groove

Cathedral’s early ’90s lineup was Lee Dorian, Mark Ramsay Wharton, Adam Lehan, Mark Griffiths and Gary “Gaz” Jennings.

It’s that time of month again, and I don’t mean that “time of month.” It’s time for the Monthly Mixtape. This month we look at British doom metal band Cathedral.

Cathedral was the brain child of former Napalm Death lead growler, Lee Dorrian, who had left that band in 1989. He and former Carcass roadie, bassist Mark Griffiths and Acid Reign guitarist Gary “Gaz” Jennings, who were united in a love of for Black Sabbath, Pentagram and other 70s metal bands, formed Cathedral that same year. During these formative years, they were joined by a second guitarist, Adam Lehan and a drummer, Mike Smail. The work by this line up culminated in  their first album, Forest of Equilibrium,  released in 1991. 

Griffiths would leave after the band recorded its major label debut EP, Soul Sacrifice, leaving Jennings to do double duty as guitarist and bassist for their second full length album, The Ethereal Mirror, which was released in 1993 and declared “heaviest album of the year” by a reviewer in Metal Maniacs.

The band would see another line up change in its third full-length album, The Carnival Bizarre, which saw both Smail and Lehan depart from the band. Stepping in to fill the void were bassist Leo Smee and drummer Brian Dixon, cementing the lineup of the band until their second-to-last album, which saw Smee depart and bassist Scott Carlson step in.

What we’ll be focusing on today is a selection of Cathedral’s material recorded prior to 1999, which encompasses the band’s first five full-length albums and three EPs. I’m focusing on this period because A) Many critics consider it the period of strongest output and B) it just makes things easier. It’s easier to pick 10 tracks from around 60 songs instead of 110 after all.

The band would go on to record five more albums, as well as a best of, after 2000. Sometime in the future I will probably revisit Cathedral and look at that time period.

So without further ado, here’s a look back at Cathedral. Take note these are the songs I would choose as an introduction. If you like what you hear then I’d definitely recommend picking up the albums.

  1. Cosmic Funeral” — This song, from the Cosmic Requiem EP, is the perfect opening track. Nothing says “DOOM” like having kicking off things with a super slow beat. Of course, it gains momentum through the song, eventually plateauing when it reaches “Satan’s Highway” (you’ll get it when you hear it). This is a great jumping in point, since it gives a hint of the wild journey which is to come with Cathedral’s combination of what was straight-forward doom metal and seventies-era sensibilities.

  2. Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)” — Well as they said in the movie High Fidelity, when it comes to the second song, you want to kick things up a notch and this song from Cathedral’s third album, The Carnival Bizarre, definitely accomplishes that. The band apparently liked this song so much that they released it twice, not only on The Carnival Bizarre but also on an EP named after said song, which was pretty much the same aside from a prolonged intro from the trailer of the rather infamous Vincent Price movie Witchfinder General which is worth watching for its brutal ending scene alone.

  3. Equilibrium” — This song from Forest of Equilibrium is almost as pure a doom metal song as you’ll get from this band. There’s a couple of “yeahs” sprinkled in, but there are not many signs of the 70s’ grooves and nostalgia that would make their way in greater amounts with every consecutive album after this initial effort. It’s a very moody song, sort of like a lonely winter’s night walking home through the woods.

  4. Unnatural World” — Cathedral’s fifth outing, Caravan Beyond Redemption, was their last album of the 1990s. It was also their first to feel less like less of a challenge and more of a by-the-numbers effort. It’s not to say that it’s a bad album, but compared to the four prior albums, it just felt like less of an adventure. “The Unnatural World” was the one song I really felt rose to the occasion. It’s about as high energy you can get and still be called “doom.” It’s also one of the few times that the band has been straight forward and political, with a song that pretty much say “humans suck.”

  5. Jaded Entity” — The Ethereal Mirror is a difficult album to pick “standout” songs from. It’s one of those few albums that works as a whole. Everything feels like a piece of a greater experience and to remove any piece of that takes away from the whole thing. Everything on it is just so damn good. But if I had to narrow it down to two songs, this would be one of them. It’s probably the darkest song the band has recorded and Dorrian puts on one of his strongest performances with the band over all their albums. He sounds like a tormented creature, wallowing in between rage and despair, which is what this song is all about. The guitar work by Jennings and Lehan amplifies that hopelessness, with its menacing quality.

  6. Suicide Asteroid” — Supernatural Birth Machine is looked back as quite a divisive album with some reviewers. Some hated it, considering it a step back for the band, others appreciated the stripped down and raw sound it had compared to prior outings. But if there’s one thing that is evident with this entire album, it’s that the Black Sabbath influence reigns supreme. “Suicide Asteroid” is probably the most energetic and catchy song on the album. There is that obvious Sabbath groove, but it’s tempered by Dorrian’s vocals, with a delivery that just kind of begs you to sing along.

  7. A Funeral Request” — Hearkening back to their first album, this song got the the “Soul Sacrifice” treatment, with a revamped version on the Cosmic Requiem CD. While it’s standard doom fair like much of the album, it’s catchy chorus makes it stand out. It’s long, but it’s an all around good song, so good that it’s another the band decided to release it twice.

  8. Midnight Mountain” — This track from The Ethereal Mirror is possibly the song where the band most pushed its boundaries. Not only is this song upbeat and groovy, but it incorporates hand claps and a yelping Dorrian demanding “Let’s Groove” and “Let’s take it to the top.” The video for the song is something to behold with its definite disco influence. All in all, just totally awesome.

  9. Autumn Twilight” —Before they had their one, and only, major label album with The Ethereal Mirror, Columbia issued the Soul Sacrifice EP. It was only four songs, but it acted as a useful transition from the slow doom of The Forest of Equilibrium and the stoner metal scene that they would eventually have a big hand in launching, and influencing. Of the songs on this EP, “Autumn Twilight” truly sticks out. Largely for it’s dueling guitar solos, but also for it’s incorporation the groovy guitar style that would become a staple of the band thereafter. Sure, it’s midpaced and groovy, but the song also makes one think of those chilly November nights.

  10. Fangalatic Supergoria” — Insanity was not something Cathedral was afraid to play with. Whether it be the 20 minute-plus “Journey of the Homeless Sapien” on the Cosmic Requiem EP or the off-the-wall craziness of “Midnight Mountain.” But “Fangalatic Supergoria” takes the monster of The Ethreal Mirror, “Phantasmagoria,” loads it up with steroids, adds  trumpets for good measure and churns out this beast of a song from The Carnival Bizarre. It’s about as close to death metal as Cathedral gets, with its aggressive deliveries by both Dorrian and the rest of the band, bringing up images of a poor soul being ripped apart by beasts within some terrible nightmarescape within their own minds.   

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