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…
“Tower Of Silence”
“This Body, Thy Tomb”