Grindcore pioneers Napalm Death were one of the fastest bands ever. Perverse logic would therefore dictate that when vocalist Lee Dorrian left in 1989, he would form the slowest, most detuned and dirge-like doom-metal outfit ever to plod this increasingly mortal coil. Thus the monstrously heavy Cathedral arose from the deepest bowels of the British Midlands, the region that previously spawned Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Reverent enough to include the names of favorite bands in its albums’ thank-you lists, Cathedral worships at the altars of Sabbath, Celtic Frost, St. Vitus, Trouble and countless early-’80s metal bands, throwing in stretches of laughably pretentious prog-rock for good measure.
Operating around the slogan “A dark celebration of jaded misery,” Forest of Equilibrium — with suitably mind-altering artwork by Dave Patchett — features an average song-time of eight minutes, an average BPM of about 45…how much more do you need to know? In Memorium, a belatedly issued 1990 demo, contains a couple of non-LP tracks (including the awesome “Mourning of a New Day”) but is generally of interest only to the converted. Likewise, Echoes of Dirges Into the Naves is a hopelessly rare five-song live official bootleg released on a Mexican indie label.
Its doomy deeds done (dirt cheap, even), Cathedral set out on a new course: to fuse Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy into the ultimate velvet bell-bottomed early-’70s heavy metal sound. Soul Sacrifice unveils this approach, with “Autumn Twilight” and three lesser efforts. The songs are generally shorter, faster and a lot more melodic, although no number can end until Garry Jennings and Adam Lehan have pealed off at least two squealing twin lead guitar solos. The Ethereal Mirror continues in the same vein, but gets lost in overly complex instrumental sections that distract from the heavy grooves that are Cathedral’s greatest strength (see “Ride”). What’s most entertaining is the band’s ability to be reverent and irreverent at the same time: Dorrian has a habit of interjecting shouts like “Dyn-o-mite!” and “Disco, man!” at moments of peak heaviness.
Cosmic Requiem (titled Statik Majik overseas) presents five new songs that — with the exception of the 23-minute “Voyage of the Homeless Sapien” — bring a little conciseness to the style of The Ethereal Mirror.
Cathedral’s lineup has always been fairly fluid, and Carnival Bizarre finds Dorrian and co-founder Jennings united with another new rhythm section. With its Sabbath-worship at an all-time high, the band achieves its crowning moment of glory (or redundancy) by featuring that group’s Tony Iommi on a song that sounds astonishingly like “Planet Caravan” (there’s even one called “Electric Grave,” which sounds nothing like Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral,” lifting the riff from Zep’s “Moby Dick” instead!). Pagan idolatry aside, Carnival Bizarre is Cathedral’s best and tightest album yet, rectifying many of the indulgences of the past and concentrating on throbbing grooves and viscous riffage — and a shout-out to Huggy Bear.