Sonicabuse Live Review – Cathedral, Islington O2 Academy, 03/12/10

What can you say about Cathedral?

Quite a lot really, and for quite few reasons at that:

And, you really have to start with Lee Dorrian: one of the most important figures in British metal, yet one of the ones we hear the least about. WHY he’s only a figure of cult worship is one for the ages:

He sang on half of Napalm Death’s ‘Scum’ and ‘From Enslavement to Obliteration’ – two of the most important Grindcore Albums. Actually, they’re also two of the most important Death Metal Albums too.

THEN, formed Cathedral, and brought the grindcore punch to the doom scene. He founded ‘Rise Above’: THE home of UK Doom, stoner or whatever else you want to call it. And, not content with bringing us the best in NEW doom, started Rise Above Relics ‘ dedicated to rare, vintage doom.  (What can you say – the guy loves doom)

Oh, and there’s other stuff too, like appearing on the on Dave Grohl’s Probot album, or Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine (Drone supergroup also featuring members of Sunn O))) ) and being a hero to skinny stoners  with long hair. (Like me)

Put simply, for modern metal, he’s like the moon’s gravitational pull: you won’t always see it, but it’s pull and influence is everywhere, and you’d REALLY miss it.

No, seriously THE FUCKING MOON.

With London currently in the middle of the sort of cold spell that most of the world looks at and say’s ‘it’s a bit nippy, but it’s not too bad’, but Britain grinds to a halt over, walking into Islington’s O2 academy at 7PM (‘!!!!’’) to find that the venue is rammed AND RAPT warms your heart. Well, it warmed mine anyway. Oh, and Cathedral were already on.

Actually, ‘A’ Cathedral were on.

Having just completed a small European tour with ‘Gates of Slumber’, the sole UK date was planned with a dual set in mind: the first half the entirety of debut album ‘Forest of Equilibrium’.

In order

With the original lineup.

Then (as if that wasn’t enough) a second set, with the current lineup, playing…. er….. a greatest ‘hits’,  or ‘nearest hits’ set.

Which basically means two totally different acts.

And sort of means that Cathedral are supporting themselves, a bit like an oroborus of Doom. But being supportive.

Or something.


Lee’s been on record as saying that many bands tend to be hesitant and a little ashamed of their earlier works, and tend not to revisit them, which, is a shame, since generally they’re what fire interest in a band, and have the most ardent (if not always numerous) devotees. And, since its nearly been twenty years (!) since ‘Forest’’ came out, he thought it’d be fun to go back for a show. However: since most of the current members of Cathedral  didn’t actually play on the record, doing it with Cathedral circa 2010 would essentially be a sort of Doom karaoke. A fun yet ultimately hollow experience. So they dug up the original members, and they all agreed that it’d actually be an OK idea.


So, as I said, walking into a venue at just gone 7pm, on a day when public transport in London is chaotic, and the motorways are kinda fucked, to find there’s only a spare inch of space at the back, AND Cathedral are already on, is well, kinda touching.

Lee started Cathedral having just left Napalm, and looking to do something closer to his love of doom, and it’s on ‘Forest..’ , at least, where the similarities can be drawn: it’s a all a bit…. 


While not exactly doing the death growls or grunts that Napalm are known for, there’s very little actual ‘singing’ going on here, and the guitars are sick and evil sounding. Going with the idea of ‘Bands sound like their names’ it sort of puts you in mind of a lichen clad, acid washed gargoyle clinging to a mossy, abandoned sepulchre.

Doomy (well DUHHHH!) and with a sort of slow motion violence (glacial erosion or something) it’s surprisingly barbaric, a bit like playing Napalm at the wrong speed (which, I expect, happened more than once at the hand of the late and sadly missed John Peel). However, given that it was Lee’s first step away from his first band, it’s not really that surprising.

Sadly, this made it seem more like a curiosity, or sideshow attraction for the main event:

YES , it’s a classic album, and YES I’ll tar myself with the ‘I’m a fan, but I prefer the later stuff’ brush, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I really feel I should have done. This was quite an event for the doom disciples, and while THEY got it, and the response was mind blowing, I (personally) was left a little cold. In my defence, this could have been because the venue itself was fucking freezing, and the projections of gothic architecture didn’t really help, OR it could be because I was stuck at the back by the mixing desk.

It could even be because I’m not a massive Napalm Death fan. (Sshhhhh: don’t tell anyone, that’s the sort of thing you only ever admit to to a therapist).



This was pretty much why I love Cathedral.

I like Doom

I like Stoner rock (even if the term’s fucking horrible)


First and foremost,

I’m a fan of HEAVY METAL.

And that’s Cathedral.


They’re one of the best examples of why subgenre’s and pigeonholing are a REALLY dumb idea.

Freed from the need to grunt or growl, and hence given the space to FUCKING SING, Lee just looked er….. Happier (actually, probably ‘more comfortable’)

It’s hard to say where ‘Heavy Metal’ ends and ‘Doom Metal’ begins, but, if you WERE so inclined to draw the rock spectrum out in full, if you could work out where Cathedral lie on it, you’d find the division there.

I’ll be honest here – this was only the second time I’d seen Cathedral (ok, technically the third if you count the earlier set) so, while I had a good time, and thought the setlist awesome, I’ve not really got anything to compare it against.

And I’m not sure about Lee’s habit of chewing the microphone cord either – that’s just WEIRD. Does look a bit creepy, mind.

And THAT is my only criticism.


Oh, and the merch stand didn’t have enough change.

How many gigs have YOU been to where you’ve gone ‘the only thing wrong with that was I had to go to the bar before I bought my souvenir t-shirt’?

Returning with ‘Funeral of Dreams’ and ‘Enter the Worms’ highlighted perfectly the contrast between Cathedral Mk1, and whatever version we’re up to now – They’ve gone SO far beyond ‘Doom’ that they’re a metal band. And REALLY good one.

Now, this is where my relative inexperience comes into play – I KNOW the setlist was basically ‘Live Staples & some Rarities’, but since I’ve I’d only ever seen them do a festival set, I’ve got no idea which the rarely played tracks were.

‘Carnival Bizarre’ turned the crowd around me into frothing Lunatics, and er, there seemed to be a Cyberman made of bits of tat at one point. Which was nice.

‘Closing’ the set with ‘CorpseCycle’ and ‘Ride’ I DO remember them doing from before, and they’re decent reminders of why Cathedral are as revered as they are by their fan’s – Heavy as hell and (Ride especially) trippy as staring at an oil-spill on a wet road. The only way you can find a better metal pairing is to go back to the seventies. Or possibly the dawn of the bronze age.

Encore wise, they’re also pretty strong (even if Leo, the bassist, has a frankly bizarre hat thing going on) – ‘Vampire Sun’ had some wicked keyboard work, and ‘Hopkins – Witchfinder General’ was introduced as a warning to all the girls who weren’t from Coventry that Lee’s gonna hunt you down and burn you as a witch. I have personal issue with this, since in my experience, girls from Coventry tend to be loud-mouthed trolls who steal your taxi, but he’s lived there longer than I have, they may not ALL be like that. But, no matter who’s the troll, and who’s the witch, the tracks a monster that sets the place alight, and we all tramp out into the cold again.

But, while we may be frozen, but we got to see something special.

And the pubs were still open.

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1 comment

  1. Adam December 12, 2010 3:19 pm  Reply

    Great review mate.

    I’ve probably seen them about 20 times over the years, but this was a killer set,and like yourself I have no problem in admitting I prefer the current Cathedral to the original sludgy doomster version.

    I was worried about attendance what with the weather, but there was a good turnout, and it was a fantastic night overall, with just the lack of a proper souvenir shirt being the only disappointment.

    It bugs me that people try and still pigeonhole them as a doom band, when if people gave them a chance, they would hear one of Britains best bands regardless of classification.

    A night that will live on in my mind for years to come.

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