Five Reasons to Mourn: RIP Cathedral

Some fans may prefer the slow-baked emotional trouncing of the band's early years, while others may prefer the fuzz and buzz of its rockier mid-era riots. Either way, Cathedral was a hugely influential band then, and will remain so long into the future. Here are five formidable (and ear-splitting) reasons to mourn Cathedral's passing.

When singer Lee Dorrian exited UK-based grindcore pioneer Napalm Death in the late '80s, few would have predicted his next musical venture would so drastically reduce the tempo and ramp up the theatrics. Dorrian, who had grown disillusioned with punk and death metal at the time, formed doom legend Cathedral in 1989 with bassist Mark Griffiths and guitarist Gary 'Gaz' Jennings. The band members' love of bands such as Black Sabbath, Candlemass and Pentagram, as well as a host of other '60s and '70s cult rockers, provided the original spark. Twenty or so years and nine albums later, Cathedral announced that it was set to extinguish that flame, bowing out after its tenth studio album, this year's The Last Spire.

It's enormously sad to see Cathedral cease, although, given the group's predilection for mournful suites, that's all very apt. The band was still making vital, passionate music -- in fact, Cathedral's last few albums have been among the best of its career. However, there's a great deal of goodwill and acceptance surrounding what would otherwise be a tragic event. Respect for Dorrian is assured due to his role as overlord of highly regarded UK label Rise Above, and there's comfort to be found in the fact that Cathedral has called a halt to proceedings when it wanted to, before diminishing creative returns tainted the band’s prodigious legacy.

Looking back over Cathedral's career, it's easy to see why the band is so revered. The group’s early work brought all the bludgeon of Black Sabbath, but it delivered the blow at an unbelievably sluggish, and even more brutal, pace. Cathedral then added heaped doses of psychedelia, progressive, stoner and '70s hard rock into its morose pummel, making increasingly hazy and psychoactive doom releases. Binding the group’s musical and thematic aesthetic was the fantastical signature artwork of Dave Patchett, mixing mythology and melancholy with a very British sense of occultism -- all vintage, lurid horror, and hashish-reeking heebie-jeebies. All up, you have the quintessential UK doom package.

Some fans may prefer the slow-baked emotional trouncing of the band's early years, while others may prefer the fuzz and buzz of its rockier mid-era riots. Either way, Cathedral was a hugely influential band then, and will remain so long into the future. Here are five formidable (and ear-splitting) reasons to mourn Cathedral's passing.

Forest of Equilibrium (1991)

Some albums are required listening if you want to call yourself a metal fan, and Cathedral's debut, Forest of Equilibrium, sits high on that list. When the album arrived in 1991, its reverberations were colossal, but its long-term impact has been even more massive. The gravity of the band's debut (well beyond the most dismal funeral march) inspired a new generation of doom-mongers to decelerate further, and to amplify the Gothic misery.

Monstrously heavy, and with murky guitars downtuned to Hades, Cathedral has never sounded as heavy or devilishly hypnotic as it did on Forest of Equilibrium. Dorrian's howled and growled vocals rise from the caverns as the gentile folksy intro of "Picture of Beauty & Innocence" gives way to "Commiserating the Celebration" -- and the molasses-thick, snail-paced trawls of sonic and emotional agony begin. Claustrophobically dense tracks such as "A Funeral Request" and "Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain" couldn't have been more aptly titled. However, "Soul Sacrifice" is the key track here, offering a brief respite from the sludgy juggernauts of distortion and sorrow, and revealing the stoner rock swagger to come on subsequent albums.

Forest of Equilibrium is a monumental work of wretchedness, and it's an album that few second wave purveyors of doom have ever come close to matching. It's a fine lesson in maximizing minimalism, where even a speedier section does nothing to elevate the burden of sorrow, and Cathedral kept the same creative momentum flowing for the next few more albums--albeit with an ever-so-slightly less miserable frame of mind. A raft of Cathedral fans will tell you the band never bettered Forest of Equilibrium, and in terms of outright moroseness and musical mass, they'd be correct. The album has long been recognized as a seminal doom release. It was crucial to the genre's ongoing survival in Europe and the UK -- and it's as important an album as any classic British metal release from Sabbath, Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Cathedral wouldn't mine the underground caverns of doom to such a murderously heavy extent for another two decades, but there was much butchery, mysticism and despair yet to come.

The Ethereal Mirror (1993)

Cathedral's debut was as heavy as a megalith, and grim as a loved one’s funeral. However, the second album, 1993's The Ethereal Mirror, found the band expanding its sound and vision. Cathedral didn't simply repeat the powerful and mournful suites of its first album, although the influence of Sabbath, Saint Vitus or Witchfinder General still loomed large. More up-tempo, rockier sounds from across the spectrum of '70s proto-metal and hard rock had crept in on 1992's Soul Sacrifice EP, and The Ethereal Mirror's continuation of that experimentation made for a more rhythmic, spirited and bone-shaking album as a result.

Kaleidoscopic and (marginally) radio-friendly rockers like "Midnight Mountain" and "Ride" are all rollicking choruses and sizzling riffs -- veritable masterpieces of metallized grunt and groove. The anthemic gallop of "Grim Luxuria" had as much in common with the dirty streetwise gloom of Pentagram as with the tumble and stagger of Blue Cheer, and Lee Dorrian’s distinctive bark was in fine theatrical form on "Ashes You Leave" and "Phantasmagoria" -- both bringing Forest of Equilibrium's thunderous doom to the fore.

The combination of dirge, delicacy and vintage dual interplay between guitarists Gaz Jennings and Adam Lehan (along with even more whimsical lyrics) made The Ethereal Mirror a feast for lovers of the dire and mischievously melodramatic. The album brought all the elements the band would explore in future into full view -- psychedelia, acoustics and flickers of prog. With powerhouse chords, a searing live sound and a pungent sinsemilla and acid-fried stench throughout, The Ethereal Mirror was the perfect mix of streamlined rockers, wonderfully ponderous and dirty doom and rip-roaring and histrionic steel-edged heavy rock.

The Carnival Bizarre (1995)

With label Earache flirting with Columbia Records in the US in the early '90s for a brief time, Cathedral was one of the heaviest bands on a major label -- although it’s rather fitting that the relationship was doomed. In 1994, Cathedral released its Statik Majik EP, containing the 22-minute (and 20-ton) romp, "The Voyage of the Homeless Sapien". However, anyone expecting a return to the corpulent and lugubrious mass of the band’s earliest years on its next album were misled. Instead, 1995's The Carnival Bizarre found the band settling into the bruising blend of stoner rock and fuzzed-out doom that would define its next few albums. A reshuffle in the band's ranks saw Lee Dorrian and guitarist Gaz Jennings compose the majority of the songs, but any inner turmoil in the band didn't affect the riotous good times to be found on The Carnival Bizarre.

The album launched into the greasy rock and cudgel crunch of "Vampire Sun", and followed with the album's true highlight, "Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)". With a delicious Vincent Price sample to open the track, and Hammer Horror vibes dripping therein, "Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)" is one of metal's all time greatest tunes -- with a whirlwind, deep-set guitar groove, and Cathedral's signature retro-cheek imbuing all. Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi turned up to provide guitar, and no doubt to cast an approving nod, on "Utopian Blaster". "Night of the Seagulls", "Electric Grave" and "Fangalactic Supergoria" brought the hulking doom -- all soaked with bong water and eccentric scenery -- and "Blue Light" explored more thoroughly tripped-out spheres.

Cathedral perfected its balance of dark mythology, hazy cosmology, and mammoth grooves on The Carnival Bizarre. Jennings’ psych, garage and oil-slicked riffs drifted into wonderfully jangling refrains and fuzzy soloing -- all backed by immensely strong and catchy songwriting. If you weren't privy to the band’s work before, here's the best place to start, because The Carnival Bizarre is, as they say, all killer, no filler. It's a classic album filled with classic tracks, but Cathedral still had plenty more to come in that regard.

The Guessing Game (2010)

Cathedral returned to heavier and gloomier pastures on albums like 2005's critically acclaimed The Garden of Unearthly Delights. The album is one of Cathedral's very best and most eclectic works, but it doesn't hold a candle to the rampant idiosyncrasy found on follow-up album The Guessing Game, released in 2010. The Guessing Game contained every hard-rocking element Cathedral had mined before -- along with a hefty dose of '60s and '70s progressive and psychedelic eccentricities. Packed with unorthodox time signatures, quirky samples and rich instrumentation, the album is 84 minutes of weirdness and wonderment.

Skunkweed metal dirges such as "Journeys into Jade" and "Casket Chasers" are set alongside psychedelic oddities such as "Painting in the Dark", "Cats, Incense, Candles & Wine" and "Funeral of Dreams" -- which comes with a beat-poetry-style spoken word breakdown, a flute solo and gigantic arena-worthy '70s riffing. The Guessing Game sees the most idiosyncratic side of Cathedral in full-flight, and Dorrian's vocals are at his most varied on the album. The gruffness and harshness are laid on thick where called for, but his voice is often pared back to a melodic soothing lilt -- put to great effect on the woozier psychedelic jams.

The 13 songs on The Guessing Game represent the peak of Cathedral's songwriting experimentation, but there's no "Midnight Mountain" or "Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)" to be found. The hooks and grubby grooves are reduced, and catchy choruses are scarcer. However, the album is a magnificent creative achievement. It illustrates Cathedral's musical growth perfectly, and while The Guessing Game may be the band's lightest album in sonic terms, it's Cathedral's magnum opus in terms of outright adventurous artistry.

The Last Spire (2013)

Before the release of Cathedral's final album, The Last Spire, Dorrian spoke of the group's desire to finish its career by returning full circle to the dark crushing doom of its early years. There's no doubt that The Last Spire could happily serve as a follow-up to the band's debut. Monolithic and ponderous riffing on long-form dirges such as "Pallbearer" and "Infestation of Grey Death" make for monumentally morose doomscapes, but the band hasn't entirely ignored the psychedelic or rockier fare -- or the Hammer Horror vibes.

"Entrance to Hell" is three minutes of "bring out your dead" cackles and sinister atmospherics, and "Cathedral of the Damned" and "Tower of Silence" feature the up-tempo swagger of the band's late '90s heavy-lidded and spliff-jivin' era. "An Observation" brings tipped-out keyboards and interlacing strings and vocals as it grinds inexorably on, and "They Tomb, This Body" finishes all with stomping riffs and thunderous distortion.

The Last Spire exemplifies what Cathedral has always done best: craft core Sabbathian laments, then add more pernicious grit and psychedelic girth where needed. The Last Spire is a bittersweet end for Cathedral, but then, morbid remembrances is what Cathedral has always been about -- along with plenty of sly winks to accompany its theatricality. The Last Spire certainly provides all that, and the band's desire to evoke the mournful spirit of its very earliest work is an apt mood to finish its career on.

Cathedral is doomed, we're all doomed, and The Last Spire provides a solemn and ceremonious exit for the band. Let us hope ours will be as dignified.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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