Cathedral – The Guessing Game
Rating: 2.5/5.0 – It’s Cathedral, Jim, but not as we know it…
Label: Nuclear Blast (EU | US )
Websites: myspace.com/cathedral | cathedralcoven.com
Release Date: EU: 26.03.2010 | US: 04.20.2010
After five long years, doom metal fans everywhere are graced with a new record from Coventry occultists, Cathedral. At thirteen tracks on two discs, The Guessing Game seems a fitting followup to 2005’s doom epic, The Garden of Unearthly Delights, which this angry metal guy thinks was their finest offering since their first three albums. All the elements are here – the same line up since Carnival Bizarre; groovy riffs; trippy cover art by Dave Patchett; the usual mix of mythology, literature and occultism that makes Cathedral‘s lyrics so much fun to listen to and read – but does that guarantee a stellar album?
Upon first listening to The Guessing Game, it is evident that Cathedral have decided to look back to their traditional doom metal roots: the tracks are more subdued and even in the most groove-laden riffs, there is a feeling that something is being held back. It sounds to me like Cathedral are trying to break out of their formula by adding new elements to the fray and bringing the old from left-field. Tracks twist and turn through familiar and uncharted territory, a good example of this is in opener “Funeral of Dreams” where a classic sounding Cathedral riff gives way to Lee providing rhythmic spoken words over a passage that would not sound out of place on Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band. Another example is in “Cats, Incense, Candles & Wine” where a psychedelic acoustic passage with simple crooning suddenly mutates into a high-octane, disco-tinged belter.
These changes keep the songs fresh and this album is certainly not boring but at the same time there is still something lacking, even in the much more pedestrian dooming of “Death of an Anarchist”, “Edwidge’s Eyes” and the eerie “Requiem For the Voiceless”.
Despite this missing X-Factor, one thing that cannot be faulted is the instrumentation. Everyone is on top form for this album: the guitars are precise, the bass solid and rhythmic, the drums in time and varied and Lee does some impressive vocal gymnastics for his age. Other critics have bulleted Dorrian for his usual tunelessness on this effort, but I feel it adds to the character of the album, making it dirtier and more twisted and ultimately if you are a Cathedral fan, you should not really notice. The way the vocals drag through “Requiem for the Voiceless” and “Edwidge’s Eyes”, my two stand-out tracks, makes them dark and unpleasant; and at the end of the day, isn’t that what doom metal is all about?
While the album spans two CDs, the actual running time of the album is only a few minutes over a single CD. This is horribly frustrating, especially faced with “filler” tracks like “Immaculate Misconception” and “One Dimenstional People” opening each disc. Of course, they add to the album experience, but are they really necessary? The double-disc feature feels more like a gimmick than anything else; a way of dressing up the album as “bigger and better” than its predecessors. When I get a double-disc, I want one hundred-plus minutes of mind-blowing music, not be forced to have a brief interval between halves.
My other gripe with The Guessing Game is that the groove of Cathedral‘s music seems to have been forsaken, favouring more progressive psychadelia. This album lacks a “Hopkins”, a “Midnight Mountain” or a “Tree of Life & Death”, which really upsets me as a long time Cathedral fan. One of the things that makes their earlier albums so enjoyable is the catchy, singalong choruses filled with simple, punchy, groovy riffs. That “classic” Cathedral sound seems to have been left by the wayside with The Guessing Game and as a result, the album feels poorer for it.
I want to like The Guessing Game. I really do. I am desperately hoping that it is a “grower”, but this is a prime example of where the hype has surpassed the album and fans are left with a slightly substandard product. All of the noise and excitement created by the presentation and the predecessors means that this rather lackluster album falls flat.