Friday Full-Length: Cathedral, Forest of Equilibrium

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Cathedral, Forest of Equilibrium (1991)

As lauded as they were during their time — from their stint touring with Black Sabbath in the ’90s to impact at MTV, influence on doom in and out of their native UK, etc. — I still think that for the actual quality of the work they did, Cathedral are underrated. While much of their legacy would be set on subsequent offerings like 1993’s The Ethereal Mirror (reissue review here) and 1995’s The Carnival Bizarre, paying a much-needed revisit to their 1991 Earache Records debut, Forest of Equilibrium (reissue review here) only demonstrates the powerful nature of the band from their very beginnings.

I don’t think the story needs to be recounted here of vocalist Lee Dorrian growing weary of punk following his time in Napalm Death and finding himself in the company of guitarist Gaz Jennings to found Cathedral and move in a decidedly different, more Sabbath-influenced direction. On Forest of Equilibrium, the lineup would be Dorrian, Jennings, guitarist Adam Lehan, bassist Mark Griffiths and drummer Mike Smail (Dream Death), and with additional flourish of keyboard and flute, they’d run through a CD-era-runtime set of seven songs and 54 minutes of raw but deceptively complex, grueling doom that, even 27 years later, remains striking in both how ahead of its time it was is arriving, how progressive the underpinnings of Cathedral‘s sound were even at that point, and how assured they seemed to be of what they were doing even as they flew in the face of trend in both punk and metal.

Cathedral didn’t invent modern doom by any stretch. Trouble had been around for more than a decade by the time Forest of Equilibrium came out, and others like Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Candlemass had been lumbering the earth for some time as well. But they did represent a different, more loyalist aspect of the generation up and coming in England at the time. Consider what Cathedral did with songs like “A Funeral Request,” “Comiserating the Celebration” and “Ebony Tears” in terms of concurrent groups like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Pagan Angel, who’d later become Anathema. While not emotionless and not without its own sense of drama at times — looking at you, “Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain” — Cathedral‘s songs took from punk a sense of bare scathe, and their material was less about theatrics and drama than it was about the basic impact of their plod and wretched atmospheres. As the intro “Picture of Beauty and Innocence” leads into “Comiserating the Celebration” (the title of which just screams grindcore in its alliterative construction), Cathedral were very clearly on their own wavelength separate from the emerging death-doom movement. Throughout their career, they would never quite fit in. Forest of Equilibrium was the crucial beginning point of that.

The band seemed to know it. Not necessarily that they’d go on to release 10 LPs and have one of doom’s most storied tenures before calling it quits after 2013’s The Last Spire (review here), but just that they were right to be so firm in their sonic convictions. Even in its faster moments — the centerpiece “Soul Sacrifice” or in the later reaches of “A Funeral Request” — Forest of Equilibrium maintains its viscous tonality and ambience, and Dorrian‘s harsh, morose vocal approach only adds to the way in which the riffs of the chugging “Serpent Eve” and the nod-ready dual-guitar-highlight semi-title-track “Equilibrium” seem to ooze from the speakers even these many years later. It would be rare for a band making their debut to be so confident in what they were doing in any case, but to have Cathedral emerge from the UK’s primordial doom soup as cohesive in their purposes as they were continues to be striking. Plenty of acts talk about going against the grain. Far fewer have lived out that particular cliche and stood as tall in doing so as Cathedral.

Not only that, but listen to the acoustics and flute at the outset in “Pictures of Beauty and Innocence” as they foreshadow the flute and keys to be included as “Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain” rounds out, and you begin to realize just how little of Forest of Equilibrium was an accident, and that, however much its primary statement is made with excruciating tempos and/or a take on doom informed in part by what was happening in extreme metal at the time, there was also so much more behind the band’s approach as a whole. That’s easier to read in hindsight than it would’ve been at the time, but even so, it is one more element at play that makes the first Cathedral long-player one of the boldest doom releases certainly of the 1990s, if not ever. They knew what they were doing, they knew how they wanted to do it, and they were brazen enough to make it expansive as well as loaded with sonic grit. It would be improper to consider that anything less than a triumph of sound and aesthetic.

Of course, Cathedral‘s career would be marked with several of those along the way, but Forest of Equilibrium holds a special place as the first of them, and while they’d develop through phases more indebted to heavy rock and a kind of middle-ground traditionalism before 2010’s The Guessing Game (review here) made their most progressive statement and the aforementioned 2013 swansong found them coming full circle in a return to darker fare, their position as stylistic forerunners never wavered, and in their latter material or their earliest work, they’re defined ultimately by the same relentless creative drive, and yeah, as much praise as they’ve gotten over the decades, that’s still underappreciated.

I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

So uh, this week was the Quarterly Review. Did you notice? It seemed like it was pretty quiet. A few of the bands shared links and whatnot, and that’s always appreciated, but by and large it was kind of a muted response. Fair enough, I guess, but I still hope you managed to find something you dug in that batch of 50 records. I found a few, to be sure.

I guess the week was up and down in general, though. “Iron” Al Morris fucking died. “Fast” Eddie Clarke fucking died. A new YOB record was announced. I got to premiere a video from The Obsessed. So yeah, lows and highs. I end the week today with a trip to the dentist to follow-up on the root canal I had a couple weeks ago and a couple festival writeups, so yeah, even that: hits and misses.

Next week The Patient Mrs. goes back to work. The semester is starting up, classes start Wednesday and she’s teaching Wednesday night. Her schedule means that I’m home with The Pecan for stretches at least on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it — not the least because the kid still won’t take a bottle from me. We’ve been through like five different brands at this point and he just wants no part of it. Before he came along, I was nervous about changing diapers. I’d never really done it before. Hell. I’ll change diapers all fucking day. I don’t care. You wanna rocket-ass poop all over the place? Whatever Pecan, I can clean it up. But a miserable kid who’s hungry and over-tired and screams inconsolably when you try to feed him? Yeah, that’s way rougher. Shit everywhere if you want, but save me from that fucking bottle.

We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, my food issues continue. I have an appointment Monday afternoon with a nutritionist whose position, I expect, will be something along the lines of, “Um, eating disorders are bad, m’kay?” and for that I will have driven probably an hour each way because that’s how long it takes to get just about anywhere from where I live. I’ve had one meal so far in 2018 (actually since Xmas) not comprised of protein powder. It was garlicky cloud bread with pesto. I think on the 8th? Somewhere around there. The Patient Mrs. also made me low-carb scones that I inexplicably gained four pounds from eating and haven’t been able to get rid of since. The rest is shakes, coffee and fake peanut butter, though even the fake peanut butter now seems like too much food to me and I don’t eat it every day. I’d just about take a human life if the tradeoff was a guarantee I could have a cheeseburger and not put on three pounds from it. I don’t even need a bun.

You don’t give a fuck. Save it for your therapist. Get back to the riffs, bro. Riffs. Fair enough.

Here’s what’s in the notes for next week:

Mon.: Somali Yacht Club review/track premiere.
Tue.: Wolftooth review/track premiere; Ozone Mama track-by-track/full-album stream.
Wed.: Clamfight review/full-album stream.
Thu.: Manthrass track premiere/review.
Fri. Six Dumb Questions with Atala.

All subject to change, addition, subtraction, etc., but that’s the plan. It’s a considerable amount of stuff for what’s a busy week otherwise, but hell, I did 50 reviews this week, have a two-month-old baby kicking around the house and basically starve myself as much as I possibly can and still manage to live through the day. Ain’t nothing that hard. The track premieres will get done. Ha.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. I’m going to sleep late tomorrow, which is a thing I’m very much looking forward to doing, and then some family is coming up from CT on Sunday into Monday, which I also expect will be enjoyable. Beyond that, maybe some reading, new Star Trek on Sunday night, protein shakes and coffee. Good times will be had, no doubt.

Thanks for reading. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Cathedral to Reissue In Memoriam June 16

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 9th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

cathedral in 1990

A quarter century after its initial release and two years after Cathedral‘s final album, The Last Spire (review here), came out, their In Memoriam demo will be reissued by Rise Above Records. One can hardly imagine the band had any idea of the legacy they were starting when they named their first offering in memory of something already passed away, but the irony of the title notwithstanding, In Memoriam is a landmark document in the history of doom from a time when its practitioners were still few and far between. The reissue, which is out June 16, comes with a live set from 1991 and a bonus DVD for those who’d like to extend their studies.

The PR wire has it like this:

cathedral in memoriam

CATHEDRAL “In Memoriam”

As with a choice few truly great bands, the first self-financed cassette recording by Cathedral – made available in October 1990 – was a pioneering underground masterpiece in its own right; the sound of a young band exploring its newfound chemistry, finding confident variations on a flawless list of influences and cultivating a sound and style that would prove hugely inspirational throughout the 1990s and beyond, being a major influence on everyone from Electric Wizard through to Reverend Bizarre.

Where most demos are little more than a dry run for the first album, ‘In Memoriam’ still has its own distinct and important identity in the Cathedral canon. The debut LP that followed, ‘Forest Of Equilibrium’, has a sombre, devout, melodic and mystical grandeur all of its own – but ‘In Memoriam’ has a far murkier, earthier, more deathly intent. Creepy, cryptic and bowel-looseningly heavy, it represents the first time that the doom metal stylings of Trouble, Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Witchfinder General had been rendered in a new, more extreme metallic form.

At the beginning of the new decade, it was really only Cathedral who were proud to assert the influence of true doom metal – a perennially unfashionable genre, but especially in a turn-of-the-decade metal scene so obsessed with speed, technicality, brutality and modernity.

*Highly influential cult Doom Metal debut recording by the UK masters, Cathedral.
*CD edition comes with bonus DVD, featuring a rare live performance from 1991. Also includes booklet with extensive notes and rare photo’s.
*Vinyl edition comes as a double 180gm LP set in gatefold sleeve and full sized 8-page booklet.

Demo 1990
Mourning of a New Day
All Your Sins
Ebony Tears
Live Holland/Belgium 1991
Intro/Comiserating the Celebration
Ebony Tears
Neophytes For Serpent Eve
All Your Sins
Mourning of a New Day
DVD Live in Groningen (NL) May 1st 1991
Intro/Comiserating the Celebration
Ebony Tears
Neophytes For Serpent Eve
All Your Sins
Mourning of a New Day

Cathedral, “Ebony Tears”

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Rog & Pip, Our Revolution: Doin’ Alright Today

Posted in Reviews on June 4th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Like a lot of “lost” groups the origins of Rog & Pip are winding and complicated. The duo of Roger Lomas and Philip “Pip” Whitcher trace their origins back to mid-’60s Coventry outfit The Sorrows, which found success not in the UK, but in Italy, and relocated to capitalize on a successful tour. Lomas and Whitcher both wound up leaving The Sorrows and worked with each other in a number of iterations, including Rog & Pip, the bands Renegade and The Zips, before reuniting The Sorrows in the late ’70s. They had anticipated commercial success in working together initially, but no such luck, and their collaboration fizzled, their material faded, and more or less sat waiting for Rise Above Relics to step in and give it its due. Whether or not Rise Above head Lee Dorrian has a personal connection to these songs, I don’t know, but the shared Coventry origin and the fact that Dorrian put together the layout for this new collection, Our Revolution, at least speaks to a general appreciation beyond it’s-heavy-’70s-and-hasn’t-been-reissued-yet novelty. Rog & Pip are joined by various other players throughout the 12 songs/39 minutes of the compilation/reissue, and the sound varies from raw heavy riffers like “Evil Hearted Woman” to the deceptively memorable psychedelic bliss of “It’s a Lonely World” and even some Thin Lizzy-style dual-guitar shenanigans on “Why Do You Treat Me Like That?” and the glammy “My Revolution” and “Why Won’t You Do What I Want?” the latter of which opens the proceedings on a particularly catchy note.

“Why Won’t You Do What I Want?” is a suitable leadoff in that it captures what Rog & Pip really had to offer an audience at their best — quality songwriting and a sounds somewhere between glam’s swaggering showoffery and heavy ’70s swing. It’s an engaging blend, the one having evolved out of the other, and Rog & Pip put it to good use on the opener, offering early Alice Cooper Band-ish grit prior to “My Revolution”‘s guitar-led vocal layering. “Rock with Me” sounds earlier and is more rock and roll at its core, but in the context of the A and B sides at the start, those roots are there, and while Our Revolution might seem front-loaded, there’s strong material front to back. Songs like “Hot Rodder” and the more emotional proto-doom of “Gold” stand out stylistically, as does the aforementioned “It’s a Lonely World,” but even “Doin’ Alright Tonight” has a solid hook, fuzzed-out guitars and a touch of boogie in the groove. It’s not quite as shuffling as “Why Do You Treat Me Like That?” arrives late in the running order and feels like a complement to the opener in more than just the construction of its title, but still, it works for what it is. Closing single “Warlord” stands up to Blue Cheer‘s blown-out sensibility and rounds out Our Revolution as one of the several could-have-been-classics included, a solo ranging into some psychedelic layer work, but never losing sight of the heavy chug at its core. Whatever band they may have been in at the time, Rog & Pip brought some essential elements to their collaboration, and that gives Our Revolution a sense of flow from song to song here.

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Cathedral, The Last Spire: Circle of Time Has Stopped

Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Whatever else you might want to say about Cathedral‘s catalog as it’s developed over the course of their massively influential more than 20-year run, the band has always made the album they wanted to make. Even during the British doom legends’ mid- and late-’90s period of wandering through the stoner rock wilderness — see 1996’s Supernatural Birth Machine and 1998’s Caravan Beyond Redemption — they didn’t wind up there by happenstance. Still, their legacy will always be for morose, stomping, thoroughly British doom, and it’s that side of their approach that their fans have most clamored for over the years. Their last studio outing, 2010’s The Guessing Game (review here), offered two discs of classic prog-influenced songs that asked much of their audience but offered much in return. Where the prior full-length, 2005’s The Garden of Unearthly Delights, had sought to marry some of the rock and doom sides together, The Guessing Game marked the band’s 20th anniversary with a bold and uncompromising progression of their sound. The results were never going to be as heralded as the band’s earliest works on landmark albums like 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium debut (presented in its entirety on the Anniversary live album; review here) or the subsequent offerings The Ethereal Mirror (1993) and The Carnival Bizarre (1995), but again, it was the album Cathedral felt compelled to write, and that was what mattered at the time.

Now Cathedral have called it quits, played their last live show, made their last video and the somewhat cleverly titled The Last Spire (released through Rise Above/Metal Blade) is reportedly to be their final album. One never knows for sure — surely over their time together the band must have amassed suitable fodder for rarities collections, live albums, greatest hits, cover records and so forth — but if it actually is the end of their run, The Last Spire is also the point at which the album Cathedral wants to make meets with the album that fans want to hear. It is an 56-minute victory lap that — far from actually sounding like one — presents eight songs of the dark, dreary doom that has come to be thought of as traditional in no small part because of Cathedral‘s crafting of it. The band’s lineup of vocalist Lee Dorrian, guitarist Gary “Gaz” Jennings, bassist Scott Carlson and drummer Brian Dixon present some progressive moments reminiscent of or at very least nodding toward The Guessing Game — the synth interlude that interrupts the sluggish lumber of “An Observation” comes to mind; David Moore‘s contributions of Hammond, Moog, synth and mellotron aren’t to be understated in establishing The Last Spire‘s murky atmosphere — but in their structure and in their intent, cuts like the early “Pallbearer,” “Cathedral of the Damned” and “Tower of Silence” underline the doomed feel for which Cathedral have become so known both in their home country and abroad. They are Cathedral at their most Cathedral. And rightly so. One couldn’t possibly hope for more of them than that.

The aforementioned trio occur sequentially following the intro “Entrance to Hell,” which finds Dorrian repeating the phrase “Bring out your dead” — which in my mind always goes right back to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but he sells it well — over suitably plague-addled atmospheres, with “Pallbearer” as the longest track on The Last Spire at 11:39 and marked aside from its strong hook by the backing vocals of Rosalie Cunningham behind Dorrian‘s signature semi-spoken delivery and the chorus of “War, famine, drought, disease” repeated to memorable effect. There’s a mournful acoustic break in the middle, but by and large, Jennings, Carlson and Dixon sound big, thick and threatening, and when the acoustics (backed by organ) give way to the resurgent groove and faster push of the song’s peak movement, the effect is fluid and entirely metal. They end slow and offer a more mid-paced distortion on “Cathedral of the Damned,” which is marked out by the spoken guest vocal by Chris Reifert of Autopsy and the line “Living in the shadow of a damned cathedral,” which may or may not be Dorrian dealing with his own legacy and the prospect of moving on after ending the band. Either way, it’s the riff and the buzzsaw guitar tone that stands out most as the band meet their longest track with the shortest full song (that is, non-interlude or intro), slamming head-on into the chorus as they do with no diminished returns on the subsequent “Tower of Silence,” the pair affirming Cathedral‘s potency on all levels as they round out The Last Spire‘s first half, whether it’s the vocals, Jennings‘ righteous solo, the heavy nod of the bass and drums, or the overarching catchiness of the chorus itself: “A tower of silence/Is waiting for me/Looming before/An astral sea.”

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Cathedral, Anniversary: Once More into the Forest

Posted in Reviews on November 23rd, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Two full decades of doing anything is impressive, and what separates British doom mainstays Cathedral’s 20-year tenure from that of many others is that they never really stopped. Until now. The 2CD live album Anniversary – their first live record in all that time, released through frontman Lee Dorian’s own Rise Above Records (Metal Blade in North America) – captures a special show they did to mark 20 years on Dec. 3, 2010, at the 02 Academy Islington in London, and it’s part of the band tying up the loose ends of their existence, which they reportedly plan to end in 2012 with a final studio offering to be called The Last Spire and another London show Dec. 3, 2011. The Last Spire will be Cathedral’s 10th full-length, and though their catalog has had its ups and downs as far as fan reception, their stamp on the genre of doom is cast if only in the fact that when they started out, there was hardly a genre to speak of. As time passed and their catalog grew, landmark releases like 1993’s The Ethereal Mirror and 1995’s The Carnival Bizarre helped not only grow the band’s legacy, but that of doom at large, and through his work with Rise Above, Dorian in particular has been placed at the fore of tastemakers when it comes to what the term “doom” means and can be expanded to incorporate. That has little to do with the sound of Anniversary, but is relevant for context if nothing else.

The Anniversary show itself saw Cathedral basically play two concerts. The first, captured on the first disc here, brought back the original two-guitar lineup for a full front-to-back performance of their 1991 classic, Forest of Equilibrium. The second was Cathedral’s current incarnation – Dorian and guitarist Garry “Gaz” Jennings being the remaining founding members – doing a selection from the rest of the band’s discography. Disc one is an hour and disc two is just under 80 minutes, so the sheer amount of material on Anniversary is staggering, and for someone unfamiliar with the band, probably too intimidating to take on completely blind – but one doesn’t release something like Anniversary for the casual fan. Anniversary is for those who’ve stuck with the band through the highs and lows, or for the late comers whose appreciation for Cathedral is seen in the band’s influence on doom both British and worldwide. And as much as they’ve come to personify the band over the years, to hear Dorian and Jennings joined by guitarist Adam Lehan, bassist Mark Griffiths and drummer Mike Smail for a full run-through of Forest of Equilibrium is a fitting way to celebrate Cathedral’s time together, though the sound between the studio versions and their late-2010 live interpretations is more than a little different. Dorian’s vocals – though he’s obviously performed much of this material all along – have developed considerably since 1991, and though he’s always been more of a frontman than a technically-minded singer, his range and use of cleaner vocals can easily be heard progressing from album to album. Forest of Equilibrium was never going to be what it is on the record itself, but whether it’s “Commiserating the Celebration (of Life)” or the show highlights “Serpent Eve” and “Equilibrium,” Cathedral as They Were do the album justice and leave a high mark for Cathedral as They Are to live up to.

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