So this is the end of the road for Lee Dorrian’s long-running psychedelic doom experiment. Looking back on Cathedral‘s career, they’ve certainly delivered some entertaining and diverse albums while helping make doom cool and interesting again. While I always favored their earlier, less trippy stuff like Forest of Equilibrium and The Ethereal Mirror, their subsequent releases always had something worth investigating. So how does the ringmaster choose to lower the final curtain on his Carnival Bizarre? By returning to the beginning and re-introducing us to the raw, crushing doom that put them on the map in the first place. The Last Spire is a retreat from the proggy and experimental sounds of The Guessing Game and while elements of psychedelia flit around the edges, it’s mostly big, crushing doom with a straight-forward, deliberate and orthodox style. Long songs, enormously distorted guitars, Sabbath worshiping and the darkest atmosphere they’ve sported since their debut all merge to make this a fitting and heavy as hell swan song that brings their career around full circle. While it isn’t quite a genre classic and there are pacing issues, it’s nice to hear them going out with such with a righteous funeral dirge.
You know this is going to be a serious doom platter as the eerie intro “Entrance to Hell” features repeated refrains of “bring out your dead” over creepy ambient sounds and ominous effects (and yeah, it’s not funny like when Monty Python did it). From there they launch into the eleven minute doom monster “Pallbearer” and they seem intent on establishing serious doom cred from the outset. While it bears similarities to the Forest of Equilibrium material, scattered traces of their more trippy side can be heard as they trudge along in low gear. Of course there are tons of huge, plodding riffs, but they also work in some interesting female vocals and a nifty acoustic section near the halfway point to keep things interesting and for the most part, it works.
Tracks like “Cathedral of the Damned” and “Tower of Silence” feature more up-tempo attacks and the above-average, groove-based doom riffing drags you inexorably along for the ride. While “Infestation of Grey Death” runs a bit long and can gets tiring, it has some interesting bass-work and a cool, uplifting, Beatles-esque segment amid all the thundering drone. Better is the ten-minute odyssey of “An Observation” which places weepy piano and strings a la My Dying Bride alongside spacey 70s synths. Numerous tempo changes, memorable riff lines and interesting musical ideas keep things flowing to the end and it grows with repeat spins. Things wind down with the very traditional and snail-paced “Thy Tomb, This Body” which has some exceptionally sad, but beautiful guitar work, which seems appropriate for a last goodbye.
As per usual, Gaz Jennings is the lynchpin to the Cathedral sound and he brings the distortion and old timey fuzz with a vengeance. His playing sounds more in-your-face and pissed off than in the recent past and the riffs are respectable, even when they drag on too long. His solos are particularly interesting on “Pallbearer” and “Thy Tomb” and his few forays into psychedelia are as fun as always. I’ve always admired his playing and I hope he goes on to find an interesting project in which to ply his trade. Dorrian’s vocals are the same as always and you’ll love them or hate them, I doubt he cares which.
Besides some complaints about songs going on too long, my main objection is the lack of a final, monumental number like “Ride,” “Magic Mountain” or “Vampire Sun” to serve as a eulogy to the band’s career. As good as some of the material here is, I hesitate to call any of it “vintage Cathedral.” I was rooting for something bigger and more memorable and maybe that’s not fair, but it’s the truth.
If this really is the end of Cathedral, they can feel pretty good about how they went out. The Last Spire is a solid, respectable ode to true doom and shows the band finding closure by returning to their roots. If you prefered their earlier, traditional doom style, this should sit well with your ears. If you wanted the more proggy, lava-lampy Cathedral, you may be a bit put out. Fare thee well, Cathedral, it’s been a pleasure knowing you.