Cathedral: Anniversary

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Cathedral: Anniversary
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Cathedral: Anniversary
Doom Metal, Stoner Metal
Metal Blade Records
November 22nd, 2011
Release length: 2:19:16
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Has it really been twenty years already since Cathedral issued their debut album Forest of Equilibrium? Surprisingly, it sure has been. Through the years, the band has shown plenty of growth in their own sound, eventually incorporating an additional Stoner Metal approach to their crushing Doom Metal foundation. Since then, it’s been one strong release after another from this Metal powerhouse, leaving a wake of destruction that is nine full-lengths long, not to mention the additional EPs and other releases over the years. It’s time for the group to celebrate, and in doing so, we are given Anniversary, a two disc set of their live performance on Friday, December 34rd, 2010, marking their twentieth anniversary as a group. The show featured a live performance of their aforementioned debut offering, and then a second set of various tracks through the band’s career.

Right away, you can’t help but feel there was a missed opportunity here. Surely a DVD version of this would have sold as well as the audio format, so why limit it simply to a live album? With a bad judgement call clearly being made, it’s a little hard to shake the sadness of never being able to see such a pivital performance from such a well known group, but at least this release does the show some good. The quality is clearly from the sound board, capturing the instruments nicely with that slight hint of live raw audio that doesn’t feel like there was much input from a studio, or a lot of polishing done afterwards. The bass clearly dominate in the music with the guitars feeling largely like a secondary instrument on stage, all complimenting the crushing sound that comes with the group’s Doom Metal approach. The drums come through clearly as well with a deeper thud to the kicks to add a little more bass input and the rhythm these deeper sounds really lay out. The cymbals and snares come through pretty loudly, and really have a nice natural sound to them. The vocals have a slight echo to them as well, and the rhaspier approach works, but you can’t help to feel that they are slightly drowned out by the other instruments, especially with the guitar, thanks to that lower vocal approach the band brings with them.

The first set simply sounds superb. It’s hard for a group to really capture the menacing or punishing atmosphere you can find on an album, but this Cathedral set does the trick. Having the bass louder, though the guitars are still pretty obvious in the mix mind you, really helps to add a crushing tone to the set that can be as burdening as it can be heavy. The set begins with “Picture of Beauty and Innocence,” finding the band using an introduction that appears to be pre-recorded as they come in with their instruments to merge straight from that track into “Comiserating the Celebration (Of Life)” and immediately getting the crowd riled up. You don’t hear the crowd during the song, nor do you during any of the songs here, as if the audience is just standing there, listening to the music, perhaps headbanging along to soem of the catchier hooks that appear in this and other tracks, feeling too restrained from the depressing yet burdening sound of the band. The vocals come through in a rough manner that can take some time to get adjusted to, but they do ultimately work for the material in creating a haunting tone to the release, though sometimes they may seem a little out of pitch at some areas of varying tracks.

But, while the audience may not be audible in the mix, it’s clear they are there for Cathedral and are really into the show either way. The people attending are picked up between the songs, though many of them are just transitioned into directly, or through some bridging chords or ambience, but the applause and cheers to the band’s performance ring through at what seems like deafening volume to anyone there the second the song finishes or starts. “Soul Sacrifice” is the perfect example of this, and with good reason considering how great the song is to begin with. While much of the set, as well as the original album the songs come from are slow paced with a soul crushing tone, this is a faster, more upbeat track that feels right at home, but still shines nicely with tight music that just hammers away at the listener with the obvious Stoner Rock/Metal sound that later would become a larger influence to the group. This is also one of the shortest tracks on this set, all spanning at least eight minutes in length aside “Equilibrium” and not including the introduction track. The crowd roars once the song finishes, though not as strong as when it starts, and it lacks a genuine segway similar to previous tracks. Instead, the band tunes their instruments again for the slower, crushing material, and the vocalist introduces the track simply by saying “This is a Funeral Request…” before the slower Doom Metal riffs kick in with a dull acknowledgement from the crowd in comparison to the previous one, and yet another guitar tuning segway commences into “Equilibrium,” which you can pick up on the crowd (or what sounds like them) chanting along with the trance-enducing rhythm of it’s introduction.

But regardless what the band plays and how they handle the segways, Cathedral do a fantastic job at performing Forest of Equilibrium in it’s entirety, and it’s clear their fans are into it, though some tracks more then others obviously. This first set fades out entirely, and then disc two, the second set, does a slow fade in, and it sounds like an entirely different show despite the information provided in the press release saying it’s the same set. The only major difference in the instruments is that the drums have more of a click to the kicks, and the audio itself sounds a lot more raw. Instead of coming through the soundboard, this disc sounds more like it was recorded from the crowd with some editing done in studio. The problem is that this actually causes the music to sound boring, bland.

The longest of the two sets presented, this second disc starts things off with a slow introduction that has the band introducing “Funeral of Dreams.” This song’s mixture of upbeat atmospheres with a little eccentric attitude is met with what comes off as diluted vocals that sound boring, and music that ends up coming through as bland and uninspiring. The bass also doesn’t feel as crushing on these songs, though on the previous track it’s heavier sound commanded the attention of the audience well. This track, “Enter the Worms,” and many others find a huge reliance on that instrument, especially for the more Stoner infused passages, but in the end it just doesn’t work out to the band’s favor and sometimes can feel like the bassist is actually trying to venture out on it’s own, even though the chords are still following the guitar closely. “Enter the Worms” does manage to show off a more energetic sound of the band, as if now the group really did want to be there playing their material, though it’s still not really enough to be that engaging to the listener.

That gradual shift continues, and by “Midnight Mountain” the band does succeed in lightening the mood like the vocalist claims they will do, even though it’s not midnight yet. The solid performance really gets the crowd into it, and you’re able to hear them go crazy at key times during the song. The more upbeat tone of the song really throws the band into a frenzy too, especially the vocalist who seems to come out of his coma without any warning and gets deeply into the performance more and more as the track builds to a loud, dynamic conclusion. This energy-fueled performance fades into “Cosmic Funeral,” a straight forward Doom Metal track that sounds pretty good and heavier then the previous few tracks were, especially in the bass. The vocals also stand out with a more passionate performance unlike the others, making it seem like “Midnight Mountain” genuinely did wake the band up from their stagnant slumber. This is great to know when you’re going through this second set, especially for “Carnival Bizarre,” which clocks in at just over eleven minutes, and ends up being a solid performance that any fan is going to sit patiently through and enjoy. The creepier, burdening atmosphere of the song’s Doom Metal foundation works well with the slight Stoner input that gives it a bit of a laid back quality that makes it very unique, especially in a live setting, and the focus on the bass a little more then half way through really works to bring out the darker tones of the track a lot.

This set also has plenty of shorter songs to it, but still a good variety to the length. After the abomination that was “Funeral of Dreams” and how stale it all sounded, going into “Carnival Bizarre” becomes a scary thought since many of the songs between them were around or below the six minute mark. The only other longer track that hits is “Night of the Seagulls,” which some members of the audience seem to really be getting into at certain times, or at least were anxiously awaiting to hear. The slower pace does feel a little heavier then previous songs on the recording, but again the rawer sound doesn’t quite capture the crushing atmosphere outside of a few really bass heavy moments. The band closes their set with “Ride.” a welcomed song despite the outcries of sadness to it being their final for the night after “Corpsecycle.” Both tracks are pulled off well and are equally addicting, but for a closing track, “Ride” makes a good “final” nail in the coffin for this performance. The Stoner-heavy sound is pushed forward nicely with the bass, even though it’s not really that low or deep. The quality of this instruments sound this time around actually works out better for this specific song and makes the somewhat upbeat yet creepy sound well worth experiencing.

The fading of the crowd’s applause at the end of “Ride,” and the scattering of a few chants of the band’s name, eventually gives way to a church organ that introduces the band’s return to the stage once more in “The Last Spire Pt. 1 (Entrance),” gearing up those who stayed for the group’s encore. This additional set includes “Vampire Sun” and “Hopkins (Witchfinder General)”. Both of the songs are suitable companion closing tracks that those in attendance clearly went nuts for, as well as the listener is going to enjoy. But of the two, it’s “Hopkins (Witchfinder General)” that really ends on a higher note. The high energy performance returns similar to “Midnight Mountain,” and the song itself is just spectacular to hear live, clearly feeding off the energy the band has for it, and the crowd gives off. You can even pick up on the audience chanting along as the vocal riles them up more as the track continues on towards it’s inevitable end.

It’s really sad to know that the following Cathedral release is going to be their farewell album. But, given the amount of great albums they’ve put out over the years, it’s probably best the band go out on a high note instead of beating themselves to death without the same passion they had back at the start, or even at this point. Anniversary is a good live release that compiles two fantastic performances, though there are issues to be had with both of them that have already outlined. But, if you’re a fan of Cathedral‘s works, this is definitely an effort worth picking up, especially for their live rendition of the entire Forest of Equilibrium album that makes up the first disc of this two CD set.

Disc One:
01. Picture of Beauty and Innocence – 0:47
02. Comiserating the Celebration (Of Life) – 11:13
03. Ebony Tears – 8:07
04. Serpent Eve – 8:38
05. Soul Sacrifice – 3:18
06. A Funeral Request – 10:10
07. Equilibrium – 6:23
08. Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain – 10:52

Disc Two:
01. Funeral of Dreams – 9:17
02. Enter the Worms – 6:46
03. Upon Azrael’s Wings – 5:17
04. Midnight Mountain – 4:51
05. Cosmic Funeral – 6:17
06. Carnival Bizarre – 11:06
07. Night of the Seagulls – 9:06
08. Corpsecycle – 5:55
09. Ride – 4:59
10. The Last Spider Pt. 1 (Entrance) – 3:44
11. Vampire Sun – 4:37
12. Hopkins (Witchfinder General) – 7:53

Overall Score: 8/10
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Digital review copy of this release provided by Metal Blade Records.