Released: 2013, Rise Above Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
I’ve recounted my adoration of Cathedral on many prior occasions, so I’ll try to avoid retreading any familiar territory here. That being said, their 1991 FOREST OF EQUILIBRIUM debut forced me to completely re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about heavy music up to that point. I’d never heard anything like it at the time, nor have I heard anything that compares to it since.
In 2011, Cathedral announced their imminent retirement. Choosing to bow out gracefully rather than wear out their welcome, the band teased a final studio album, THE LAST SPIRE, to stand as their musical epitaph. But time passes all too soon, and it is with heavy heart that I announce that the Endtyme has finally arrived. THE LAST SPIRE is upon is, and Cathedral is no more. But blessed be the gods of doom to grace us with an exit as gloriously melancholy as its introduction, a feat of which only a band like Cathedral could accomplish. This is the end, dear friends. This is THE LAST SPIRE.
Mainman Lee Dorian has espoused in the press about how THE LAST SPIRE feels like a direct follow up to FOE. And while “going back to our roots” is often a tired pitch line to try and recover wayward fans, in this instance, it’s an absolutely true assessment of the final eight tracks to bear the Cathedral moniker. Abandoning the hippy psychedelia that has propagated so much of the band’s recent material, THE LAST SPIRE is the most straightforward, heavy, and utterly nihilistic that Cathedral has sounded in 22 years.
Thankfully, Dorian and company avoided the route of self-plagiarism by trying to recreate the droning majesty of FOE, opting to rather focus on recapturing the vibe and pervasive sense of despair that their debut seethed with so freely. And it is a largely successful endeavor. Combining the lockstep tight crunch of latter tracks like “Hopkins”, “Stained Glass Horizon” and “Night of the Seagulls” with the methodical simplicity of elder tunes like “A Funeral Request”, THE LAST SPIRE gives loyal fans the best of both worlds.
As the crows caw and the wind blows through “Entrance to Hell”, a voice beckoning to “bring out your dead” repeats his call progressively louder and more demandingly, insinuating a sort of foreshadowing of the end which is to follow. “Pallbearer” passes through the gates of the cemetery with a rather noble and overly positive opening riff, suddenly turning very dire and very serious in tone. Jennings begins to belt out the oh so POTENT main riff, while Dorian espouses poetry of the morose. Echoing the tomes “WAR/FAMINE/DROUGHT/DISEASE!” while Carlson’s bass rumbles low in the nether regions amongst a siren’s harmony, the tune summons imagery of medieval plagues, but in context is just as relevant to many corners of the world in 2013. And then a beautifully somber acoustic interlude at the 6 and a half minute mark which seizes into a raging volley of apocalyptic hammer on licks and galloping rhythms. It’s an amazingly intense listening experience – and that’s just the first track.
“Cathedral of the Damned” is a frank, pull-no-punches indictment of organized religion under the guise of gothic imagery, as Dorian cries “Carry Your Cross and Hope to Die”. “Tower of Silence” sways slowly back and forth, like watching a flower dance in the wind, but on a VHS tape, and in slow motion. “An Observation” is the closest thing to the FOE material on the album, more so stylistically than in execution. A slow buildup, a drudging flanged out bridge, sweeping Hammond organs, and a mammoth synthed out prog-rock coda that rivals that of label mates ATMA. And as we reach the final track of the band’s legacy, “This Body, Thy Tomb”, Dorian declares “I exist in this coffin… of life…” It’s a massive, sullen tune that walks a tightrope of beauty and desolation -combining its trudging riff with weeping harmony and literal submersion, Cathedral exits the stage on a powerfully high note.
Any words that I attempt to convey the beauty, majesty and complexity of this album will simply not do it justice. THE LAST SPIRE is an album 22 years in the making, and as such begs to be heard. It’s not a retro throwback; it’s not an album that panders to its audience. THE LAST SPIRE shows Cathedral exiting this life the same way that it entered – 100% on their own terms. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Godspeed gentlemen, and thanks for the memories.