To paraphrase Nick Drake, time has told us that Cathedral are a rare, rare find. Twenty years time, in fact, since ‘In Memoriam’ first made its crepuscular crawl towards the darker reaches of our consciousness, in which Cathedral have proved themselves to be so much more than the paragons of doom metal they originally resembled. Twenty years, in which they’ve proved themselves to be a band who not only transcend metal, but all or any genre classifications one might attempt to restrict them within. Yet far beyond all expectations, their ninth album, ‘The Guessing Game’ marks perhaps the most dizzyingly eclectic, eccentric and fascinating album they’ve yet committed to posterity.
Cathedral’s frame of reference has always been a unique one, yet here their curious and captivating sound takes on new dimensions, fuelled in equal parts by a fiercely anti-establishment imperative borne from punk rock origins, and a skyward reach gleaned from a longstanding devotion to the most outré and rewarding realms of progressive rock, folk and psychedelia. A 78-minute, 13-track magnum opus, ‘The Guessing Game’ fuses the expansive ambition of the most ornate gatefold double-album with Cathedral’s trademark marriage of incandescent ire and monstrous riffage.
Herein, wide-eyed blow-outs like ‘Painting In The Dark’ and ‘Casket Chasers’ pay testimony to Cathedral’s longstanding forte for barnstorming rock action, and the gloriously moribund ‘Edwige’s Eyes’ and ‘Death Of An Anarchist’ lurch into horrific catacombs to gripping effect. Yet elsewhere, the foursome’s furthermost extremes are showcased, from the labyrinthine, psych-infused ‘Funeral Of Dreams’ (aided and abetted by legendary Melllow Candle chanteuse Alison O’Donnell) and the beatific ‘Cats, Incense, Candles And Wine’, to the abject, expressly doom-laden ‘Reqiuem For The Voiceless’, an animal-rights themed tour-de-force that may well be the most vehement and incensed Cathedral song to date.
Throughout, however, the passion for experimentation and the fiery idealism that have separated Cathedral from their peers throughout their lengthy and wayward history blaze more brightly than ever. More than merely the sum of a charismatic and iconic frontman, a guitarist who can happily dash off ten killer riffs before breakfast, and a rhythm section embarrassingly overburdened by chemistry and power, Cathedral are a band who exist refreshingly outside of time and easy classification. A band always working on their own co-ordinates whether delving into NWOBHM-esque riff-shapes or mellotron-and-Moog-assisted astral voyages. Showcased in a sleeve by synonymous Cathedral artist Dave Patchett that conveys its kaleidoscopic allure in extremis, ‘The Guessing Game’ is the boldest outing yet by a foursome whose blossoming into one of the most life-affirmingly freakish bands in living memory has been a particularly potent pleasure to behold. Yet more, who can dare to wonder what twenty more years may bring…