Cathedral - The Last Spire
Nuclear Blast
8 songs (58:19)
Release year: 2013
Cathedral, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Charles
Major event
It’s not often that an album can be billed, before its release, as its makers’ last. More usually, musicians fizzle out, or get diverted, or die, and it’s only retrospectively that their final release acquires any special significance. There are definite advantages to it, though, especially when the band in question is someone as special as Cathedral. It has given them the opportunity to make The Last Spire into the proper closing statement that their career deserves. So there is a clear sense of intent at work here, and in fact this is much heavier and (duh) doomier than its predecessor, The Guessing Game. As good as the latter was, Cathedral obviously did not want their last offering to be anything less than ridiculously slow and heavy.

The sense of experimentation is stripped right back (apparently the band recorded a series of more wide-ranging material, which was largely left out because it did not fit the tone). Songs seem to vie with each other to produce the heaviest possible ideas, each one reaching for more and more sonic weight. If I were to pick a winner, it would be Tower of Silence. This is an extremely simple song, based around a crawling monstrosity of a riff, channelling the slowest, most tortured ideas from the first few Black Sabbath albums. Other tracks tend to be more complex structurally. Pallbearer, for instance, ranges much more widely through the Cathedral riff-ertoire, including occasional passages of more up-tempo stoner rock (see the “Gravediggers of the world, unite!” section). But despite these elements, what is really noticeable throughout is how dark the tone is.

So, for example, it’s interesting to compare the aforementioned Pallbearer, with its counterpart in the track listing from The Guessing Game, Funeral of Dreams. Like on that song, Dorrian shifts his vocals suddenly away from singing and towards rhythmic shouting. But rather than an oddball quasi-rap, here he yells “War! Famine! Drought! Disease!” repeatedly. Indeed, his vocals quite often assume a particularly sour, sneering tone. Moreover, while the band do segue on a few occasions into passages of incongruous instrumentation throughout The Last Spire, these elements tend to be handled in a particular way. So when The Damned Cathedral suddenly derails into unaccompanied vibraphone noodling, it only lasts a few moments, and is swiftly blustered out of the way by yet another crushing riff. A similar fate is inflicted on the dreamy alt-rock section in Infestation of Grey Death. It’s like they are looking to lampoon the idea that they have transmogrified into whimsical prog adventurers.

An Observation is the only song here where Cathedral’s penchant for quirky instrumentation is allowed to properly flourish. First, there are some creepy cello and piano unison lines, and later a breezy synth-led interlude reminiscent of Goblin. Both of these elements, in their different ways, evoke the horror themes that have given the band so much inspiration, and so deserve their place on this most definitive of the band’s albums. Another element which Cathedral were starting to develop more on later releases was the lyrics, and here we are given another rant against wage slavery and consumerism, in the form of the gloomy and abstract Infestation of Grey Death. What metal band can offer wiser poetry than the following?

The drudgery of the factory
Funds material slavery
A holiday by the sea
Some tickets for the lottery

Anyway. And so to This Body, Thy Tomb, the final track on the final Cathedral album. Something goofily triumphalist like Journey into Jade would be horribly inappropriate here. Instead, we get a brilliant, ghoulish funeral dirge; just the right tempo, just the right amount of filthy distortion on the bass, just the right tone struck in the mournful acoustic interlude, just the right dynamic weighting given to the organ, and some of the gloomiest riffs the band has produced for many years. It leaves you on a suitably downbeat note. Cathedral’s final words are not jocular at all; they are grim enough to situate The Last Spire firmly in the best traditions of classic doom metal. And perhaps, to offer it up for consideration as a future doom metal classic.

Killing Songs :
Tower of Silence, Pallbearer, This Body, Thy Tomb
Charles quoted 92 / 100
Other albums by Cathedral that we have reviewed:
Cathedral - In Memoriam reviewed by Andy and quoted no quote
Cathedral - The Guessing Game reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Cathedral - The Ethereal Mirror reviewed by Adam and quoted 90 / 100
Cathedral - Endtyme reviewed by Charles and quoted 93 / 100
Cathedral - Supernatural Birth Machine reviewed by Charles and quoted 79 / 100
To see all 11 reviews click here
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