Released: 2010, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Twenty years since the IN MEMORIUM EP, UK doom pioneers Cathedral have endured lineup shakeups, label hassles, and changing musical climates by waving the flag of doom proudly and releasing music on their own terms, regardless of what’s popular. After an unsettlingly quiet five year absence, the band has returned with their ninth studio full length, THE GUESSING GAME, a 2-disc collection that shows the band continuing to play by their own rules, all trends be damned.
Going back to even their earliest material, the incorporation of atypical instruments and influences has always been part of the band’s appeal. From the renaissance themes throughout FOREST OF EQUILIBRIUM, to the jazzy funk of “Purple Sunset”, to the rock sensibility of “Midnight Mountain”, Cathedral have never shied away from being different, and on THE GUESSING GAME, the band has opted to put their influences front and center. The results may leave some scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong, while others will see it as the natural and long overdue step forward for the band.
THE GUESSING GAME is heavily rooted in the 70s style of progressive/psychedelic rock, an element that’s always been represented in the band’s sound (especially in recent albums), but never as prevalent as it is here. The album straddles a fine line between their stoner sludge past with some of the more obscure, avant garde material that might be found in Lee Dorrian’s private collection. Tunes like “Casket Chasers”, “Requiem for the Voiceless”, and “Painting in the Dark” have plenty of the familiar straight ahead groovy crunch, while the mellow, easy listening take of “Cats, Incense, Candles, & Wine”, the jazzy instrumental title track, and the xylophone tones in “Funeral of Dreams” will have some wondering if they put the right CD in the stereo. Admittedly a Cathedral fanboy since that debut EP twenty years ago, it took me a few listens to fully wrap my head around things and warm up to the songs. But there was eventually a moment when everything “clicked” and the madness fell into its proper place.
The balance of the heavy and the mellow works best when you listen to THE GUESSING GAME in its entirety, but it’s certainly closer to a full blown prog record than traditional doom. If you’ve followed their career with any level of consistency, you may be okay with that (I was), but there are plenty of purists who will think they’ve dropped one tab of acid too many. That being said, it’s likely that this may be the last Cathedral album that resembles their metal past, as it certainly hints of more abstract themes to come. The heavy stuff is really heavy, the weird stuff is really weird, in short, THE GUESSING GAME is exactly what you should expect from Cathedral. Tack on an extra half a point if you have anything from Witchcraft, Necromandus, or the Rise Above label in your CD collection.