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Cathedral The Guessing Game

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, April 30, 2010 @ 8:30 AM


(Nuclear Blast)

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Pretty apt title for the ninth full-length from British vets Cathedral as this is one of those rare albums that will keep you guessing what might be coming next for most of its almost 85 minutes. The sprawling Guessing Game spreads itself over two discs and is easily the most nuanced, experimental and downright weird of the band's 20-year career.

It also leaves one wondering if it might be their last, given the reflective and nostalgic closing track "Journeys Into Jade" that looks back on those two decades. "What will the future bring?" frontman Lee Dorrian wonders in the song's chorus. And after this, it is indeed anybody's, um, guess.

Game literally brings a little bit of everything to the table musically, stylistically and thematically. With its ample application of mellotron and organ, as well as the occasional flute, violin and sitar, Game's got as much of a '70s prog/folk/psychedelic rock feel to it as it does the funereal doom and thundering, Sabbath-ian riff bombage Cathedral built their career around. And as you can imagine, this makes for some rather striking contrasts.

Whereas "Casket Chasers" and "Painting In The Dark" deliver straight up - and surprisingly catchy - bombast in fine fashion, the ethereal instrumental title track and trippy "The Running Man" sound like something from King Crimson's Court of the Crimson King. Barnyard sound effects aside, the overtly animal rights-based epic "Requiem for the Voiceless" offers 10 minutes of bowel-shaking doom that is countered by "La Noche Del Buque Maldito (Aka Ghost Ship Of The Blind Dead)" with its funky-ass groove buoyed by Lee Smee's bass throb and the hippy-dippy metallic pop of "Cats, Incense, Candles & Wine."

The barnstorming lead track "Funeral of Dreams" is a roller-coaster ride unto itself, with stretches powered by Gary Jennings hulking riffs giving way to a mellotron haze and Dorrian's spaced out rambling before doubling back and dropping the hammer are starting the loop all over again.

Given its length, breadth and affinity for the unconventional, more traditional fans may find themselves losing patience with The Guessing Game. And truth be told, Cathedral could have chopped a good half-hour from this and hardly anyone would miss it. But given that their last album boasted one track, "The Garden," that was nearly that long to begin with - 27 minutes, actually - economy doesn't seem to be much of a concern for the band.

Still, give Cathedral credit for stirring things up so dramatically at this stage of their career instead of playing it safe and dipping into the same old bag of tricks. If this is indeed it for the band, they'll have gone out with a bold stroke - even if some folks won't appreciate it. And fuck 'em if they don't.

* * * 1/2

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