By Aaron Small
UK doom legends CATHEDRAL released The Last Spire at the end of April, marking the end of their career. To say the band, which was formed in 1990 and led by vocalist Lee Dorrian along with guitarist Gary Jennings, had an amazing run is a massive understatement. Looking back at their catalogue which includes ten full-length studio albums and a plethora of EPs, there’s some phenomenal songs in there. Now they bid farewell.
“From the start, all we’ve done is get our heads down and plough through it,” reveals singer Lee Dorrian on the phone from England. “We never really sat down and thought, oh we’ve done this and it was great, we’ve done that and it wasn’t so great. It’s only now we start thinking those kinds of things, when it comes to an end. I can’t sit here and say everything we’ve done is great, ‘cause obviously there’s been some very average stuff as well as the cool stuff; it’s not all been brilliant. But to weigh it all up, I think the good definitely outweighs the bad in terms of what we’ve managed to achieve; and against all odds as well. One of the things that’s always amazed me, is the fact that we’ve actually managed to continue in the face of adversity.”
“The cards aren’t always against us, but it’s not been an easy ride. There’s been times when we were expected to be the next big thing in metal, with all those Columbia days (in the early ‘90s). Then we had years in the wilderness – did another album, did another album, did another album – had a few more years in the wilderness. Going right back to before that even, we never imagined getting past one album. So to be sitting here 23 years later, talking about the new one being the last one, it is all a bit surreal. The last couple of years, when I’ve known it’s definitely coming to an end, it’s these kinds of times when you do actually start looking back over the years and remembering some of the good stuff, and appreciating some of the stuff we’ve written and recorded. Whilst you’re doing it, it’s hard to be reflective. I look forward to it in a couple of years when it’s seriously over, and I might have a bit of spare time to sit down and go through all the piles of stuff I’ve amassed over the years; just properly look back on it. That’s the day it’ll probably hit me more than it has now that it’s over.”
The burning question is, why? Why did you put Cathedral to rest? “In a nutshell, I just think we’ve done as much as we can do really. That’s the main answer, there’s probably loads of other reasons… the fact that we’ve been together so long for a start. It’s not like it’s been five years, it’s 23. That’s longer than most bands stay around. For us to carry on any longer I just don’t think we have the energy; the energy to do it sincerely is what I mean. To do it half-assed would be sacrilege. And I think the only way we could do it in the future is to do it half-assed because we’ve got so many other things going on in our lives. The last thing we want to do is put out mediocre records. I think the way this album (The Last Spire) turned out, we couldn’t have asked for it to turn out better really, to be our last one. And we had a couple of years to think about it obviously. Some of the albums we’ve done in the past have been very much put together last minute. This one was thought out, and we took our time recording it as well. We did it over stretches, over periods of time – weekends, days here and there – over a space of four or five months. We recorded everything really fast; in terms of performance-wise in the studios it’s probably the quickest we’ve actually ever recorded. But the fact that we stretched it out, gave us time to let the songs sit for a bit, and know exactly where to go with them. That’s not answering the initial question,” laughs Lee.
“A long time ago I gave it serious thought; there’s been many times when you feel completely disillusioned with it all. There’s been a lot of times when we thought no one gave a fuck about the band. There’s been ups and downs in terms of coverage we’ve had… there’s been times where we’ve been completely broke and we haven’t been able to go on tour and do the things we wanted to do. But then there’s always been the music, and the music has been the main thing that’s encouraged us and inspired us to go on. And obviously the people who have supported us over the years, without them I think we’d have probably given up a long time ago really. I’m 45; I’m not a teenager anymore. That’s not to say I wouldn’t do anything ever again, it’s just the thought of jumping around onstage to ‘Midnight Mountain’ when I’m 50 doesn’t seem right to me. I always said as well, if we make it to ten albums, that’ll be a miracle and that’ll be the time to quit.”
While Cathedral’s new and final album is titled The Last Spire, that phrase will be familiar to die-hard fans as it was also the name of the intro to the encore on disc two of the Anniversary double live CD from 2011. “That was just my initial idea for the album,” admits Lee. “We didn’t really have many songs written back then; we had just started thinking about the next album. I thought it’d be good just to put that in there, ‘cause I already knew that’s what the title was going to be for the last album. I thought it would be good to give people some indication of how it would start, just leave a bit of a teaser I suppose. I wanted us to do an intro like that for the live shows on the last tour; even though when we recorded the Anniversary record, we hadn’t announced or decided it was going to be the last ever tour. It was just something I had in my head ‘cause I wanted this last album to be the heaviest we could make it really, without being stupid you know. I wanted to make sure everyone else in the band knew that,” chuckles Dorrian. “And we were finally, for this one, all in agreement that the album should sound the way it did. Having said that, we recorded another six or seven songs that didn’t make it on; the main reason for that being they all strayed in different directions, and I wanted this one to be a lot more focused than the albums we’d done in recent times.”
Now it’s been confirmed that leftover Cathedral songs do exist, fans will be clamouring to hear these tracks. “One of them, ‘Vengeance Of The Blind Dead’, was on a Decibel magazine flexi-disc; and a different version of that will be the Japanese bonus track. Then there’s a song called ‘Evil Wizard’ which is a really cool song, it has a bit of a shuffle beat; that’s actually one of the better songs. Because the album had to have the mood that it has, to put a song like that on there, despite it being one of the better songs, it just wouldn’t have fit really. That’s going to be on a British magazine called Record Collector, they’ve asked me to put together a compilation album of Rise Above stuff so that’s going to be on there; but it’s going to be really rare! There’ll only be 500 copies. Then there’s the other tracks… one of them is half an hour long and it never got finished, so we might go back to that and try and finish it off, then put it out as a 12” later on. That’s a very epic track. There’s about four more kind of heavy, just what you’d expect from Cathedral really. They’re more groovy than they are doom, less nihilistic I suppose.”
Both Cathedral and Monty Python are British institutions, and until now they had nothing but their country of origin in common. However ‘Entrance To Hell’, which is the opening track on The Last Spire, features a man repeatedly chanting “Bring out your dead.” A phrase quite customary for fans of the 1975 film, Monty Python And The Holy Grail. “That has nothing to do with the intro. It was totally not intentional,” states Lee. “A few people have brought that up and I didn’t even realize. I actually stole that from a pretty obscure record by the former bass player for THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN, Nicholas Greenwood. He did a solo record in 1973 called Cold Cuts, and at the end of the album he’s walking around some plague-ridden city saying ‘Bring out your dead.’ So it has nothing to do with Monty Python, but it’s turned the fucking thing that was supposed to be really serious into almost a comedy thing now and it’s really bugged me.”
Cathedral’s last ever show was supposed to be December 3, 2011 in London, England. “But quite literally two days after we announced it, we got offered the Soundwave tour in Australia, so the last ever show, I can’t remember the exact date, was in March 2012 in Perth, Australia.” As such, none of the songs from The Last Spire have been played live. “Correct, apart from the intro but that was a very rough version of it.” Does that bother you? “I think the opposite; it doesn’t bother me at all. I think it’s great because sometimes when you write songs, you write them thinking about how they’re going to come across live. This time, because we had no stress about anything, we didn’t have to worry about going on tour or pleasing anybody… it made things a lot easier. If you’re thinking, oh we’re going on tour as soon as the album’s come out, how’s this going to work live? You end up coming across stumbling blocks. Also, it leaves a lot to the imagination, what would these songs have sounded like live? I’m not worried about it at all.”
“The good thing about it is the fact that we announced this end a couple of years ago. It’s given us a lot of time to just enjoy these last moments. Playing Australia again was fucking brilliant! That’s one place we always used to love going to. We toured Brazil for the first time, and we had a fantastic time back in Japan. As opposed to before when you’re just on a roll, you’re just going with things and doing them… these last couple of years have been a bit more special because we knew it would be the last time we’re doing this; we appreciated it a whole lot more really. So it hasn’t made the end as painful as it would have been if we… say we finished without doing an album we’re happy with, or we had a massive fight and the band ended for no apparent reason other than that; I think it would have been harder to deal with. But the fact that we’ve let it evolve into this situation where it is almost like giving ourselves a funeral, I think it’s made it a bit easier to bear. Although when people say nice things, it does get a bit emotional. Like I said, for a lot of these years, we felt like no one gave a shit about us really. I don’t know whether it’s because it is coming to an end and people realize, aw fuck, we’re not going to hear anything from you again. It just seems a bit strange. All of a sudden we’re getting front covers of magazines which we never had before, and people are offering us loads of money to do another gig. Maybe we should have split up ages ago and came back? We ain’t going to do that though.”
Was the supposed final show in December 2011 at The Forum filmed for a DVD release? “It was filmed yeah; we haven’t edited it yet or anything. I don’t know if it was going to be for a DVD release, ‘cause I don’t even know if DVD music videos are actually worth doing these days? But it’s all there; it was filmed really well with seven or eight cameras, professional audio and everything. There’s loads of shots of the crowd, interviews with the audience and with us. I thought we’d just keep it in the archive and maybe one day get together and edit it, I don’t know. There’s no rush to put it out to be honest with you. We filmed the Anniversary gig (on December 3 2010 in London, England at 02 Academy) as well, but again I haven’t even seen that.”
Look for part two of the exclusive BraveWords.com interview with Lee Dorrian next week.