Doom metal fun with Witchfinder General
Guest writer ANDREW GARVEY pays tribute to Cathedral – England’s greatest and most influential doom metal band, who have drawn on horror imagery and subjects to create their distinctive music over their 20 year career.
Cathedral’s links to British horror are best illustrated by the second track on their 1995 album Carnival Bizarre, a song inspired by 1968’s classic film, Witchfinder General starring Vincent Price. The accompanying music video, with clips from the film itself, is a perfect example of the band’s ability to make doom-laden heavy metal fun. That video is available as an extra on Witchfinder General’s 2001 DVD release. And thanks to the magic of youtube here it is:
The Coventry-based doom-mongers have now disbanded, but we still have their 10th and final studio album The Last Spire due later this year to enjoy.
Their 1991 debut album Forest of Equilibrium’s opening lyrics “our pleasures be joyless, doleful experiences / we seek not life’s beauty but cherish it’s funereal aspects” set the tone for a recording that’s a slow, heavy assault on the ears and happy moods of the listener. In short, it’s a genuine classic of the miserablist doom metal genre. By their second studio album the music was faster, more upbeat and groove-based, though still very clearly very, very metal, and heavy with it. One of their most popular songs, the cheerfully infectious Midnight Mountain sounds like some ill-conceived yet brilliantly executed kind of Black Sabbath-disco hybrid.
Unlike many of the death metal bands of the early 90s (such charmers as Cannibal Corpse, Autopsy and Obituary peddled brutal songs of murder and mutilation) Cathedral always revelled in more phantasmagorical but still very much horror-related subjects. Theirs wasn’t the horror of the grim, bloody death and torture porn, but of the exhilarating, scary fun of monsters, magic, tombs, witches, demons, and ghouls.
However, their music progressed and changed over the years, Cathedral’s lyrics always remained gloriously unhinged, gleefully mashing together actual, real world concerns with history, horror, fantasy and science fiction imagery. This is the band that gave us songs referencing bleeding angels fleeing from heaven, an uprising of the blind dead, Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes, all-powerful jiggling worm monsters, the Knights Templar and historical witch trials.
Even their cover artwork, usually provided by regular artist Dave Patchett (think of a cartoonified Hieronymous Bosch – deeply bizarre creatures doing odd, and quite often disturbing things in a twisted melange of monstrous imagination) matches the music brilliantly. Their 2005 album was even called The Garden of Unearthly Delights, a clear reference to Bosch’s famously nightmarish late fifteenth/early sixteenth century piece.
A superb live band, especially in the smaller venues that allowed plenty of interaction between the audience and the charismatic frontman Lee Dorrian, Cathedral played their final live gig last December. They will be missed.
ANDREW GARVEY lives in Staffordshire. He writes (infrequently) about mixed martial arts, professional wrestling, history, horror and folklore. Follow him on Twitter: @AMGarvey