Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review of Cathedral's The Last Spire

A lot of veteran musicians have claimed that a given album will be the last they ever put out, but no claim has ever hit as close to home as the one Cathedral made with The Last Spire. While the group’s doom contributions and experimental nature helped secure their popularity, they went into a lengthy hiatus after The Garden of Unearthly Delights in 2005 and their future was called into further question with The Guessing Game five years later. Fortunately, they’ve got one last card up their sleeve and have also got former live bassist Scott Carlson back on board in place of longtime member Leo Smee.

In a move that is jarring yet subconsciously anticipated, The Last Spire sees Cathedral abandoning their stoner and prog flirtations and going back to the slow dirge-driven sound that made its first appearance on the monolithic Forest Of Equilibrium. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly dark, the song structures are surprisingly elaborate, the riffs are as oppressive as they are drawn out, and the tempo never gets any faster than the snail’s pace march on lead single “Tower Of Silence.”

These aforementioned tropes do make this out to be a sister album of Forest Of Equilibrium, but some of the band’s latter day quirks do keep them from completely repeating themselves. In addition to the production having a much cleaner sound than the debut’s grimy tone, Lee Dorrian still keeps to his signature Ian Anderson meets Tom G Warrior bark and a few non-sequiturs pop up to keep things interesting. The Chris Reifert cameo on “Cathedral Of The Damned,” the extended waltz of “An Observation,” and the thirty seconds of awkward chuckling on “The Last Laugh” are just a few of the album’s more memorable moments.

But even with a move towards a straightforward doom sound, this album is oddly harder to get a feel for than the experimental releases before it. The slow pacing leads to it being somewhat monotonous at times and the songs are more about accentuating their structures than providing groovy riffs. Fortunately, the songs are all pretty well written and reward multiple listens. In addition to the previously listed tracks, the closing “This Body, Thy Tomb” makes for a powerful highlight thanks to its labored verses and an instrumental segment that implies the band’s return into the sludgy recesses from whence it came.

While it would’ve benefitted from one last attempt to recreate “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General),” Cathedral’s last studio album is a successful attempt at going full circle and just might be the most honest swan song that has come out in recent years. While I would personally recommend something like Forest Of Equilibrium or The Garden Of Unearthly Delights before this one, it should please most of the band’s fanbase and does a good job of securing their immense legacy. We’ll just have to see where things go from here…

Current Highlights:
“Tower Of Silence”
“An Observation”
“This Body, Thy Tomb”

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review of Black Sabbath's 13

There’s a lot invested in the first album under the Black Sabbath banner since 1995’s Forbidden. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are still together after the ill-fated Heaven And Hell and Ozzy Osbourne is back in the ranks, but the inclusion of Brad Wilk in place of Bill Ward keeps this from being a complete reunion of the original lineup. Factor in a Rick Rubin production job and a couple health scares and you’ve got a great album with all the ingredients to make it even better.

Even if you don’t factor in Rubin’s insistence on a back to the roots approach, 13 sounds exactly like you thought it would. Their first three albums are the most obvious reference points but the structures and tone aren’t too far off from Iommi’s most recent works and there are traces of Born Again in his soloing style. The band dynamic is also identical to what one would expect as Iommi’s signature riffs drive the songs, Geezer provides a powerful bass presence, Wilk is competent though lacking Ward’s jazzy flare, and Ozzy’s vocals are edited to sound about as good as they can at this point…

The lyrics are also pretty solid though there isn’t anything quite as apocalyptic as “Electric Funeral” or the band’s self-titled anthem. The tone is a somber yet contemplative one as songs like “God Is Dead?” and “Dear Father” sit in on religious debates while “Live Forever” and the bluesy “Damaged Soul” discuss the inevitability of death. While the topics are nothing new, they sound a bit more real when delivered by a group of men in their sixties and fit the songs incredibly well.

But while a downtrodden doom album was just what we wanted from Sabbath, there are moments where this album feels like it may actually be too slow. While the exceptions of the “Planet Caravan” sequel “Zeitgeist” and the upbeat “Live Forever,” all the songs are slow plodders with occasional signs of life in the form of a speedy bridge. There’s not a badly written track on here but the overall album feels like it needed to be more dynamic. Just listen to the album with “Methademic” and “Naivete in Black” in place of “End Of The Beginning” and “Age of Reason” and you’ll see just how excellent this album could’ve sounded.

If the tolling bell at the end of “Dear Father” means that this will be the last Sabbath album, then I will take this as a rocky but ultimately strong swan song from a group of seasoned veterans. But I will also take this album as a sign of greater potential if this turns out to not be the case. Either way, 13 is a great entry into the Sabbath canon that is even better if you get ahold of the deluxe edition. Of course, nothing can fill the void that was created by the nonexistent follow-up to The Devil You Know…

Current Highlights:
“God Is Dead?”
“Live Forever”
“Damaged Soul”
“Dear Father”