To properly appreciate this reissue of doom legends Cathedral’s In Memoriam demo, it’s important to put this release into some sort of context first. In 1990, when this collection of songs was first recorded, doom metal was about as underground as it got. It was a far cry from the present day when everyone and his gran is forming a doom band and retreading some very old paths. Back in 1990 you had St Vitus, Pentagram, Candlemass, Count Raven, Trouble and a small handful of obscure bands all drinking from the Sabbath well. The afore mentioned bands were achieving some level of fame…or notoriety, but for the most part it was as underground as a corpse with only small run fanzines such as Under The Oak (run by future Cathedral bassist Griff) giving the smaller bands any exposure at all. Suddenly Cathedral appeared. Lee Dorrian was already notorious as the front man of Napalm Death, arguably the fastest band around at that time, and guitarists Gaz Jennings and Adam Lehan had both served time in UK comedy thrashers Acid Reign.
When all three turned up in Cathedral together it was a head scratching moment. Not only did the association seem unlikely, given their previous bands, but the musical direction the group would take was a total headspin. Dorrian had long professed his love of doom and his label Rise Above was showing the signs of heading in that direction, but Cathedral were largely unlike anything that had been heard at that time. Yes doom had its slow moments but bands also injected a sense of pace and groove, as per their original Sabbath template. Cathedral didn’t bother. This shit was slooooooow!!! The second notable change was the vocal style. Doom bands almost always, up to this point, went for some variation of the Ozzy howl and made full sue of melody. Lee Dorrian, however, introduced the world to something entirely different. Having been used to unintelligible growling in Napalm Death he opted for a melodic growl in Cathedral that confounded expectations but suited the music to a tee. We all know that, in later years, the band expanded their sound with faster, more mainstream elements and Dorrian made more use of melody as his vocals became more confident and progressive, but the 1990 original release of this demo, introduced the world to something truly unique and new.
So, is it any good? Well, 25 years have been very kind to this, it has to be said. Considering this was a demo, presumably recorded on a budget, all the elements that made Cathedral so great are fully in evidence. The fact that the band chose to re-record two of the four tracks here for their much lauded, some would say legendary debut, Forest Of Equilibrium shows that Cathedral were a well defined act from the start. The sound is big, the guitars heavy as a monster truck on your nuts and there’s enough reverb going on that some of it is probably still echoing round the studio to this day! In some ways reviewing this release does seem a little redundant. Everyone knows Cathedral. Everyone knows their first album and chances are, most doom fans and certainly all Cathedral fans will have heard this; either the 1994 original issue or the 1999 reissue with bonus live tracks…of which this is a reissue itself. This latest reissue adds nothing to the audio portion of the whole release. The only difference now is the inclusion of a DVD with the CD version featuring a live set from Holland in 1991 (which my review copy doesn’t include so I can’t comment), and new packaging and liner notes. The vinyl, while omitting the DVD footage does come in an array of sexy options and colours to appeal to the die-hard completists.
It would be wrong not to comment on the live tracks as we’re here. Recorded in Europe in 1991 following the release of Cathedral’s debut, these show that the band were already a strong live unit, having set out on the touring cycle pretty early in their career. The fact that many of these early tours were in the company of death and thrash metal bands shows how far doom metal was from the mainstream at that point. The performances here are fantastic but the sound quality does leave a little to be desired being rather drum heavy and light on the guitars. I suspect the source of this is a good quality soundboard recording that has been cleaned up. The live tracks offer the listener an interesting insight into the nascent years of the band but, in truth, don’t really add a great deal to the overall listening experience. Maybe this would work better with the visuals…if I had them.
From this point we all know what happened. Cathedral went on to become one of the biggest and most influential doom bands of the last 25 years and Lee Dorrian almost single handedly brought doom to the mainstream. Sadly, despite all their acclaim and apparent success, after twenty odd years of struggling, the band was no longer sustainable and was laid to rest. In Memoriam brings the story full circle and, for anyone who may not have heard it provides the basis from which most modern doom, as we know it, has sprung. For that reason alone it’s a valuable document and worth investigating.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall