After more than two decades of spreading the doom gospel, Cathedral are finally hanging up their ash-flecked boots, almost as if to cede to the grim finality that has always cast ominous shadows over their music. The band’s story has been one of uncompromising dedication to a sound that flows directly from that seminal Sabbathian well, and yet within that apparently restrictive format, Cathedral have been consistently and instinctively ingenious, confounding the notion that doom metal is a one-dimensional exercise in slow riffing and abysmal prophecies.
But all good (and crushingly heavy) things must come to an end and there is a delicious symmetry to the fact that The Last Spire takes Lee Dorrian’s crew back, in spirit at least, to the pulverising extremity and macabre preoccupations of their classic debut, Forest Of Equilibrium. Their last album, The Guessing Game, was a bewildering explosion of progressive rock mischief and brutish psychedelia and represented a stylistic sidestep that clearly sated a creative urge or two for Dorrian and his perennially underrated six-string sidekick Gaz Jennings, but The Last Spire is all about closing a temporal circle and reasserting the band’s original ethos.
A few welcome curveballs aside, this is a doom metal album from toenail to tooth. Once the sinister ambience of intro Entrance To Hell crumbles to dust, Cathedral erupt like never before on the disgustingly heavy Pallbearer, an 11-minute maze of dense distortion, snail’s pace momentum and horrified despair that neatly sums up this album’s overall adherence to doom’s core principles.
Cathedral Of The Damned is every bit as bruising, with only brief flashes of prog whimsy to lighten its oppressive mood, but it’s the malevolent steamroller of Tower Of Silence that truly takes the breath away, with yet more of Gaz’s astonishing riffs colliding to confirm once more that the guitarist stands second only to Tony Iommi when it comes to the mastery of this arcane artform.
Similarly, it is hard to think of another drummer that can inject so much Bonham-esque swing into heavy music this indelibly slow-paced as Brian Dixon; truly one of the great unsung heroes of homegrown metal over the last 20 years. During the sprawling, acid-drenched funeral march of Infestation Of Grey Death, Brian and bassist Scott Carlson underpin Gaz’s churning sludge attack with electrifying vigour, every tempo shift and debilitating detour hammered home with eerie composure. And as if that wasn’t unsettling enough, they repeat the trick on the epic and horrifying An Observation, another wickedly eccentric 10 minutes of detuned morbidity and nightmarish surrealism, and the lavish and languorous asphyxiation of the closing This Body, Thy Tomb.
Bowing out with an album that is both thrillingly focused and wonderfully esoteric, Cathedral must surely now be acknowledged as one of the greatest British heavy metal bands of all time. They will be sorely missed but cherished forever. This is the end.