There are sides to Metal that you either get or you don't. Extreme Death Metal, Viking Metal and Black Metal, all subgenres that polarise opinion. People either adore these genres or unequivocally abhor them. There's no rational rhyme or reason to either side and there is very little in the way of a middle ground; generally speaking you're either one side or the other.
Doom Metal is the same. Slow, sludgy and noisy and to the casual listener it no doubt sounds like a horrendous racket but to the fans it is just pure, unadulterated, uncondensed heavy. At the forefront of the UK Doom scene for the last 21 years are the irreplaceable Cathedral. Back in the late 80s, they stomped their way onto the world stage with their low tuned, slow tempo, painful songs and since then, they have been regarded as one of the yardsticks by which doom bands have been measured.
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In February 2011, the band came out and announced that 2011 would be their last year as a functioning band. Singer Lee Dorrian commented; "It's just time to move on and leave our recorded legacy to linger". On 3rd of December, Cathedral bid their audience a fond farewell and disembarked the stage for the very last time. They have confirmed that there will be one more studio album in 2012, but as it stands, they will never play live again.
Which leads us on to the review of their first, last and only official live album, 'Anniversary'. Recorded on the 20th anniversary of their seminal debut album, 'Forests Of Equilibrium', the original line up took to the stage to play a collection of their classic tracks in full with no bullshit.
The first disc of this huge set (it's over two hours long in total) contains the entirety of that debut album, then a collection of their most loved songs from across their two decade career.
As soon as 'Commiserating The Celebration (Of Life)' kicks in, it's evident that this is no ordinary live album. There is no spit, there is no polish. The guitars are washed right across the mix, two guitars playing in significantly low tuned synchronicity, the bass thundering straight down the middle and Dorrian's vocals spitting as close to the listener as the mix will allow.
Moving into 'Ebony Tears' and 'Serpent Eve' you can hear that this is exactly how Cathedral sound live. Nothing is edited out. All the mistakes, the mishits, the hiss of the guitars, hell, even Gaz Jennings and his anonymous guitar compatriot checking their tunings and noodling between songs is kept in place. The guitar tones don't match and don't blend particularly well. You can hear that there has been no attempt to mix them and blend them, literally what you would have heard at that gig is what you hear on this CD.
All too often bands will record a live show then touch up bits and pieces in the studio to make a slick recording, not here, this Cathedral as they come, large, loud and fucking heavy.
Dorrian's vocals sound as pained and heartbroken as ever, revelling in his own personal torture with masses of bile and venom thrown in for good measure. Dorrian's unique vocal style works almost like a fifth instrument here. His voice can be percussive and staccato or elongated and drawn out, generally matching the rhythm of the guitar/bass riffs for maximum unsettling effect. The standout song for me is 'A Funeral Request', a solid fan favourite, which by the sound of the audience reaction was very well received.
Elsewhere, as we enter the second disc, we are treated to a mix of stuff from their eclectic back catalogue. It really is a proper 'best of' on display here. From 'Carnival Bizarre', through 'Corpsecycle' and working through to 'Hopkins (Witchfinder General)', there is something for Cathedral fans both old and new. The power in the performance never falters and the band thunder through their set with the same power that brought them notoriety in the 80s.
This album review is starting to read remarkably like a review of a gig as when you listen to this album through headphones it really does feel like a gig. Close your eyes and you can imagine the smells, the sounds, the heat and the crush as the crowd moves forward and back. For me, it's a stroke of genius that the album sounds this genuinely raw and really does represent the live sound of the band.
Despite the overall scuzziness of the album, this would have to rank as one of the best Metal live albums because it is the definition of a live show. This is the band as they come, for better or for worse, which is what a live album should be.
'Anniversary' is loud, brash, noisy and far from polished. For any other band, this would would gain some serious derision, finger pointing and general textual disdain from me, but this isn't any other band. This is Cathedral. This is a band who built a career on brash and noisy, slow and sludgy, as well as being just downright heavy. If 'Anniversary' was slick and polished, then it just wouldn't sound like Cathedral.
Rest in peace Cathedral. Doom will not be the same without you.