Patron saints of doom bid farewell to their stony parishioners with their riff heavy swan song.
Lee Dorrian has had a charmed musical career! As a young lad, he first cut his punk teeth editing a fanzine called Committed Suicide. Covering mostly anarchist (crust) punk bands at the time, the horizons of the fanzine’s field of coverage would later expand to include metal bands. This genre convergence would later prove to be prophetically allegorical of Lee joining the legendary Napalm Death, one out of a handful of bands that pioneered the grindcore genre by blending metal’s brutal power with punk’s speed and political ethos. Lee would record the first one and a half albums with them before moving on to start Cathedral, slowing down from grind’s hyper-assault to the crawling dirge of doom metal. Cathedral would go on to become a titan of the genre, when their first album Forest of Equilibrium became one of a dozen golden calves within the scene.
Dorrian’s tenure in Cathedral would not be as short-lived as it was in Napalm Death. Cathedral’s career would span over two decades, putting out ten albums and a slew of singles/EPs in between, all the while maintaining themselves one of doom’s most essential go-to groups, (not to mention one of the longest running!)
It hasn’t all been great, however! There have been some "fail" moments interspersed throughout their trajectory. The Carnival Bizarre and Ethereal Mirror albums (as well as some of their more “experimental” phases) are evidence enough of this without having to bring up the cringe-worthy cheese-fest that is the video for “Hopkins Witch-finder General”. Thankfully The Last Spire, Cathedral’s final benediction after a 23-year penance in a now overcrowded scene will send them off into the dusk on a reasonably proper, detuned note.
Anyone familiar with the drowsy Sabbath worship of their classic debut will already know what to expect on this album. The Last Spire plays as if it was an addendum to the aforementioned release. Tracks like the album’s ten-minute opener “Pallbearer” (a major standout here) and “An Observation” could be inserted into their premier opus and would play seamlessly amongst the old songs. Many fans of Cathedral’s more puritanical doom sound will appreciate that they stuck with the devil they’ve always known. There isn’t much inventiveness at play here, which is fine, because with doom metal, there really isn’t much room for experimentation without the end product becoming an ugly, amorphous bastard.
For some, The Last Spire may not satisfy the need to hear a more pronounced tone of finality on this farewell. It would have been interesting to hear them exploit their own morose theme a bit more and truly give the piece a sense of final departure. While “This Body, Thy Tomb” -- the album’s last rite -- does a decent job of bringing their curtain to a close, this album lacks an implied sense of resolution. An over-the-top valediction would not have been unwelcome here.
As a whole, The Last Spire works as the soundtrack to Cathedral’s interment. The record is blemished with a wee bit of repetitiveness, but those that have stuck by this band through some of their lower artistic periods will find relief in the same, knowing all too well that it could be worse. And to those not taking the band’s dissolution too well, they can take solace in an almost assured reunion show (or string thereof) after the appropriate time for mourning has been observed.