By Aaron Small
After a 23-year tenure, British doom-meisters CATHEDRAL have packed it in and are calling it quits. Serving as their epitaph is the newly released tenth and final album, The Last Spire. From ‘Entrance To Hell’ to ‘This Body, Thy Tomb’, a more glorious goodbye is difficult to fathom.
Artist Dave Patchett has been a long-standing fixture with Cathedral, providing numerous paintings for the band to use on album covers and t-shirts. His contribution to The Last Spire (pictured below) is full of distorted religious imagery: a topless female Jesus nailed to the cross, a Pope figure, the donkey with a halo, a monk. “It’s like a climactic… it’s just rounding things off with that one really,” explains vocalist Lee Dorrian. “It’s not like a usual epic Dave Patchett piece where he does the full spread; it’s just one section of the artwork now. It’s basically thank you and goodbye, fuck you God or whatever. It’s just a scene inside The Last Spire I suppose; almost like a nativity gone wrong.” Patchett’s creation is located on the inside of the CD, with the grey, tombstone looking piece being the actual cover. “Alec Roper did the grey Soul Sacrifice type image on the front, but the special edition of the vinyl version is something else altogether; it’s absolutely mega. It’s got a die-cut gating around the front, there’s like a 3D arch window that folds out with the face on the front. Then the flap lifts up and there’s a massive photograph of us going down The River Styx, I suppose you’d call it on a boat and stuff. Behind that is the Dave Patchett artwork. The first edition of the CD comes with a slipcase that has that kind of artwork around it, but the vinyl package comes with a coin as well – to pay the ferryman – in a velvet box. It’s just for proper fans of the band; we’re only doing 500 of them.”
Throughout Cathedral’s career, Lee Dorrian’s lyrics have always been a poignant and integral part of the listening experience, and The Last Spire continues that hallowed tradition. Case in point is ‘Tower Of Silence’: “I lurk in the shadows of society, within this fucked-up system; there is no place for me.” That’s something people all over the world can identify with; particularly those in the throes of youth. “It’s just the general day to day stuff you see around you, that you can’t believe goes on and you can’t be fucking bothered with it anymore. It’s more me getting cynical and older than it is anything to do with being in my youth really. The thing is, the older you get the more you’ve seen it, the more weary you get. It’s almost like saying, fuck you, I’m out of here. I’m just going to turn my mind off and exist there for a while. ‘Tower Of Silence’ is kind of a place in your mind really.”
‘Infestation Of Grey Death’ features another brilliant Dorrian line: “Drudgery of the factory, such material slavery, a holiday beside the sea, some tickets for the lottery.” Talk about depressing; is that what humanity’s come to; hoping to win the lottery? “Yeah, well it fucking seems like it to be honest with you. Where I live, if I go to the post office, people are more concerned about buying lottery tickets than they are sending someone a letter. Those lyrics actually came from an experience the year before last, in the winter of 2011. I went up to Blackpool, ‘cause I’ve been driving for years but never properly passed my test, ‘cause I’ve always had too much going on. I’ve never had enough time to focus on it properly, so I thought, well fuck it. They do these courses up in Blackpool, which is a seaside holiday resort up in the northwest of The UK. It’s a place where… I don’t know, there’s plenty of places like it in The States – dead seaside towns. But this isn’t dead, it’s still lively, but it’s dead as in everything there that is alive is dead. It’s not dead in terms of there are no people anywhere; it’s almost like the people that are there are like zombies really. It’s a place where when you were younger, it used to be the annual outing for the working man’s club; you’d go to Blackpool for a daytrip. Go on the amusement arcade and on these big roller coaster rides, wither up and down the parade. It’s like an amazing place to be when you’re a little kid."
"I went up there for four days just to do a crash course driving thing to get my licence, and I’ve never been so depressed in my life. Just walking around and you see people’s idea of heaven was to be at this rotten place. There was demonstrations going on by the English Defence League - they’re a fascist kind of group - at one of the pubs on the main strip. People throwing loads of money in the arcade machines, it was so depressing to me – fucking hell! Is this what it’s come to? Sorry, I keep swearing. I don’t usually swear this much. But when I was a little kid, this was some kind of wonderland, and now it’s just like some grey hell. Being in a quite cynical mood in general, that just triggered off a lot of thoughts in my head – the usual Cathedral stuff really about people being obsessed with material possessions as opposed to having sympathy with their fellow man.”
“The lottery ticket thing, I knew that was a bit of a strange thing to put into a lyric, but that’s why I liked it really. Putting ‘lottery ticket’ into a doom song is quite unusual and quite original; you wouldn’t normally choose to use something like that.” But does Lee play the lottery himself? “Ha, ha, I can’t deny that I have a couple of times over the years, in times of desperation. But it’s against everything I believe in really. Lottery just gives you fake hope, and what is that hope anyway? What do you actually achieve when you get all that money? Your life’s probably going to be worse! You get more out of life the more you put in it; just to throw a quid at something and expect to get a million is just ridiculous really.” So casinos and slot machines are not appealing then? “We’ve been on tour and spent money on gambling machines just to kill the time – and you get free drinks in those places in America, so it kind of balances out. Spend $50 and get $100 worth of drinks sometimes. I don’t advocate it, but it’s just one of those things. I don’t claim to be perfect about anything, in many ways I’m a hypocrite and I don’t deny that; nothing is definite and nothing is indefinite.”
Cathedral filmed a video for ‘Tower Of Silence’ (available to view below) which is almost a mini Hammer horror movie unto itself. “We did spend a lot of time on it to be honest. It is kind of crude looking… the song itself is quite serious, and I suppose the video is not 100% serious. Like you say, it’s just a homage to those old vibes from those old horror movies really. But we didn’t try and make it look completely like an old B movie; we did try and add semi-contemporary touches to it. We filmed that back in October (2012) and it’s taken quite a while to get it edited to how we wanted it. It’s not like we’re doing a promo for a new record that we’re going to tour on or anything like that, we really just wanted to do it because we’re putting out the record on Rise Above (Lee’s own label), so we can pretty much do what we want. In other situations, we wouldn’t have been able to afford a video. It’s the last time we’re ever going to do it, so let’s have some fun. Compared to a lot of other videos, I won’t deny some of the stuff we’ve done is cheesy, but I don’t have a problem with that either.”
Like ‘Midnight Mountain’ (from The Ethereal Mirror) when Lee was flying on the magic carpet. “Oh yeah, well the thing that people will probably never see with that is A – I think it’s great we did that ‘cause it broke the mold of frowning depression. Having fun is as relevant as not having fun really. Columbia Records told us they wanted us to do a disco video for ‘Midnight Mountain’, and I was like, you want us to do a fucking disco video, we’ll give you one! That was at the time when BOOTSY COLLINS was going to do a remix of the track and it was going to be put out on a shaped picture disc like a mountain. We were getting so tired of being told how to dress, told how to look; the whole thing was getting a bit frustrating for us because we’d always done things our own way up until that point. We felt like a lot of our integrity was being taken away from us. That white suit I’m actually wearing in that video – I’m not lying – it actually took the director five hours to convince me to wear it; and we only had one day to film the whole video. By the time I’d actually agreed, I was so wound up by it, I just went bananas really.”
One bewildering element of The Last Spire is ‘The Last Laugh’ – a 38 second clip of Lee chuckling away in an evil tone. “It was just a spontaneous thing in the studio really; it was not a big idea. I was just doing some vocals and decided to layer some laughing and screaming. It’s our last ever album, and it’s the second to last song on it… it’s kind of like the Sabotage SABBATH thing I suppose. It’s a screw you to the critics, one last little fuck you.”
Chris Reifert from DEATH, AUTOPSY, and ABSCESS contributes guest vocals on ‘Cathedral Of The Damned’. “Back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, I always thought Autopsy were a killer band,” states Lee. “The way they played the doom stuff, they played it like no other death metal band. When they did the slow parts, they sounded like TROUBLE. They had the harmonies going on and the bends, I just think they understood what it was all about really. I was a big fan of theirs in the old days. I kind of started going off death metal around about ‘89/’90, but we met Chris when we toured with MERCYFUL FATE in ’92, could have been ’93. I just got amazingly stoned with him and we had a good crack. A couple of years ago we played the Hole In The Sky festival in Norway, and Autopsy were playing too. Dan Lilker (NUCLEAR ASSAULT, BRUTAL TRUTH) who’s a very old friend of mine, was helping out. A few days after the festival, Chris sent an email to us saying he loved the band. He’d said stuff about Cathedral before in interviews in magazines and I thought, ah cool, I didn’t realize he liked us. He’s really into Dave Patchett’s artwork as well. He said, ‘If you’re going to do another album, please let me know, I’d love to do a guest spot on it. I thought that’d be great. So he did, it was really that easy. There wasn’t a big plan or anything; an unusual guest but a great one. He wrote the lyrics and everything to that section.”
Although ‘Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)’ from 1995’s The Carnival Bizarre, is Cathedral’s most well-known song, when asked which track best summarizes the band, Lee replies, “That would be really hard because every album’s quite different to the next one… something like ‘Cosmic Funeral’ (which appeared on two EPs in 1994, Statik Majik and Cosmic Requiem). That has all the elements in it.” In closing, Dorrian admits “You could have never scripted any of this, it just happened really.” And what a happening it was.