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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Cathedral

The Garden of Unearthly Delights

Review by Mike Korn

There's something uniquely British about Cathedral. If you hear them and don't know where they are from, you can still tell they are from Old Blighty right away. Their music has the qualities of stateliness, eccentricity and decadence that typify their homeland. That's truer than ever on The Garden of Unearthly Delights, the latest CD in the long-running career of these stalwarts.

If you've never heard Cathedral before, this is a great place to start. It's a smorgasbord of all the different characteristics of the band ,ranging from sluggish, monolithic doom metal to more up-tempo, grooving "stoner" type material to fast paced screamers just a notch short of thrash. To top it all off, there's the immense 27 minute epic "The Garden", where every thing comes together along with a sizable dose of singer Lee Dorrian's love for old school prog rock and psychedelia.

My favorite Cathedral release remains the awesome "Carnival Bizarre" but "The Garden of Unearthly Delights" is not too far off that mark. Prepare to pick some of this garden's evil fruits today.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Dearth A.D. 2005
This is really just a bunch of spacey noise and feedback with a voice declaring, "There are no more witches since we stopped burning them."
Tree of Life and Death
The first track proper is a deliberate and pounding tune full of Gaz Jenning's trademark sludgy, ultra-heavy guitar work. Things get really doomy and ominous towards the middle. This is a powerful, traditional start to the CD.
North Berwick Witch Trials
As you might guess from the title, this is virtually a sequel to "Hopkins (Witchfinder General)" from "Carnival Bizarre" - a cut which I regard as the band's best ever. This is perfect British metal beefed up for the modern age - an onslaught of great catchy, Sabbath-like riffing, mixed with Dorrian's gravelly vocals. The lyrics relate the story of a true English witch hunting frenzy.
Upon Azrael's Wings
Wow, I thought this was a Bathory cover when I heard those first hammering, staccato riffs. And in fact, this brutal track plays tribute to old Gods like Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, but taking that sludgy, raw sound and mutating it to something immediately identifiable as Cathedral. There's an exceedingly weird break in the middle where things drop down quite a bit, with a jazzy feel and female vocals but things soon return to the furious heaviness.
Corpsecycle
To make up for the suffocating heaviness of the previous tracks, this has a more cheerful, almost poppy sound to it. It's still heavy metal, but Dorrian's admiration for Brit-pop vocal melodies surfaces here with an almost Beatle-esque vocal hook. There's a psychedelic 70's feeling to the track as well and the lyrics are unbearably morbid, in contrast with the upbeat tone. It's one of my favorites of the album! More cowbell couldn't have hurt... (if you don't know what that reference is in regards to, check out this http://snltranscripts.jt.org/99/99pcowbell.phtml - ed.)
Fields of Zagara
This is a brief, mostly acoustic instrumental that has some classical string work to add flavor.
Oro The Manslayer
There's nothing mellow about this one. It might be the fastest song Cathedral has ever done. It's not quite thrash but the pace is fast and driving, just right for loosening up the old neck muscles with some head-banging. There's some throbbing bass work from Leo Smee in the mid-section that gives way to a superb flurry of wild guitar soloing and riffing from Jennings - very cool cut!
Beneath A Funeral Sun
This is another fairly up-tempo cut propelled by strong double bass drumming. It's a very traditional sounding Cathedral tune that is seriously marred by an awful "nursery rhyme" type chorus sung by children. A bit more successful is another poppy section that sounds like it could have been written by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. This is an interesting but not wholly successful tune.
The Garden
Almost any rock song lasting more than 27 minutes is going to collapse under its own weight. It's to Cathedral's credit that this remains as coherent as it does, but ultimately, it's just too much to take in. It really sounds like about 10 smaller tracks stuck together into one. To cover all of the stylistic changes here would take too long, but suffice it to say we have lumbering ultra-doom, noisy stretches of ambient feedback, groovy stoner riffs, psychedelic space rock, female vocals mixed with folky acoustic all swirled together with the traditional Cathedral style metal. There are certainly points of interest in here, but the track is just overdone.
Proga-Europa
This wasn't even really worth putting on the album - a very brief "rocking" type snippet that follows a lengthy patch of silence. It should have been stuck in "The Garden" - another couple of minutes wouldn't have made a difference there!
 
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