by Mark Kadzielawa
Cathedral is one of the more interesting bands in the heavy metal scene. Their angle on the genre is a combination of doom and progressive rock with fair amount of experimentation. Cathedral's recent record, The Guessing Game, is a double album, and it is yet another musical journey into the unknown. The band is not afraid to challenge themselves, and they surely take chances to be keep the music fresh and interesting. The Guessing Game is a landmark album in that regard.
Cathedral originally formed in 1989, the band is celebrating 20 years as a recording and touring artist, The Guessing Game however took five years to complete. The band has a solid reputation as one of the leading bands of its genre. Their style is very specific musically, and visually. Cathedral's sound is instantly recognizable just as are their record covers.
Cathedral went through many line up changes over the years. From 1994 onwards the band is made up by Lee Dorrian on vocals, Garry "Gaz" Jennings on guitar, Leo Smee on bass, and Brain Dixon on drums. The Guessing Game is Cahtedral's ninth full length release, not counting several EPs the band had out in between.
Vocalist, Lee Dorrian, is very laid back when talking about Cathedral. An interview with Dorrian resembles a conversation you'd have with a friend at your local pub. The singer however is very informative and very forthcoming with any Cathedral related topic.
It's been five years since the last album, why did it take so long?
Lee Dorrian: It's weird because to me it doesn't seem that long, but obviously five years is a long time, especially when you think about being a band for like twenty years. I think what happened, few things really. After we did our last album, The Garden of Unearthy Delights, we were really happy with it, and we spend a lot of time promoting it. We toured for like year and a half. After we did that record, especially the last track, which was like 28 minutes long. So after that we weren't sure where to go next. At that point we felt we've encompassed everything that the band was about. We kind of didn't know where to go next, or even if we were to go anywhere next we had to think about lots of things. When the touring commitments were over we've spent a year not even having anything to do with the band. We just took a year off. And then I called up Gaz ( Jennings-guitar) and told him to come down with his guitar to see what ideas can we come up with. In that first year he came down about four or five times, and stayed a few days at a time. We weren't trying to push ourselves to force anything out. We just wanted to make sure that by continuing we are making the right choice. And then in that year we came out with like a whole album worth of material which was a lot different from what you are actually hearing on the new album. We didn't use any of those songs. The material we came up with was very much in vain of our first album, really. Very slow, heavy and dark, progressive doom metal, which is obviously a lot different to the way The Guessing Game came out. The only song that we used from those early sessions is Requiem For The Voiceless. In fact, it was the first song we came up with when we were writing the new material. That wasn't even gonna go on the album. It's only because our drummer liked it that much, so we kept it.
Were those early songs even recorded?
No, there is a whole album worth of stuff we didn't even record. It's still there obviously. But I think what happened after a year of writing stuff like that we were into it. But we thought, instead of doing something people are familiar with and treading on the old ground, we wanted to do something new. When we came to that conclusion that's when we started to write the songs that are on the album. So that was about a year and a half that we started the writing for The Guessing Game as it is. I suppose at this time of the year me and Gary took the songs to the other guys in the band and started rehearsing them, then we recorded the album. That's five years in a nutshell, really.
That certainly explains a lot. Is The Guessing Game a double album because of such long absence, or you just simple felt overly creative?
Well, I think it's probably the latter, really. It's the same like it was with the last record. We scraped a whole album worth of material we've written for that. It's almost like you spend a lot of time trying to find where you should be going when writing the music, and then you have to try and eradicate to find the right starting point. So by eradicating all that material, it was a hard thing to do, but once we realized that we were going to do something different the ideas started to come easier. We were still actually writing while we were recording the album. There are four songs that were written in the studio. I think, our producer, Warren Riker, wanted to kill us after about a week because we were still coming out with new songs in the studio.
Well, when you have the momentum like that, you have to materialize on it.
This is what happened. Their ideas were to get all the recording and mixing done in certain amount of time. And the very last days were spent doing vocals, really. So we didn't get the album mixed on time at all, so Warren had to take the tapes with him, and mix them here in the states. And the reason for the double album is that we had so much material, and we didn't want to loose any of it. And like I said, a good portion of it came out at the last minute. We collectively thought we were gonna lose six or seven tracks to make a 60 minute album, or we asked the record company if they were interested in us doing a double album. Double in a classic sense, presented as a double album, you know two discs as opposed to cramming everything onto a single disc. I hate records where there is too much stuff crammed up. I hate when there is a lot of filler just to fill the space. I just like the record to breathe. I suppose when the record is this long you need a breaking point in the middle of things just to refrain from it. That was the idea, and I know it's not a common thing these days to do a double CD, but that what we wanted to do. For me a double album is something very normal. I don't think our mindset had changed. We don't really pay that much attention to what's going on in the modern world of music. It's not to say we're living in the past, I just find the modern productions a little bit weak. Many bands don't even sound like the real people are playing the instruments. I don't mind hearing mistakes, I just want to hear real people playing real music. The further the technology is going the less you gonna get a chance of that. We didn't want to make a record that sounds like it was recorded in 1971, but we are certainly influenced by that period, and we want to put ourselves across in the music.
The album sounds like you've incorporated some interesting instrumentation. Can you shed more light on that?
Well, the only thing we've never used before is probably a sitar. The mellotron we've used on every album after Etheral Mirror. But the thing is with the use of mellotron on the previous records, it's always been almost in the background. We've hired one for the previous recordings, and we were so excited to have it that we started to mess around with it. None of us is a virtuoso keyboard players, let's face it, so we just played a few notes here and there. This time, I thought, if we were gonna hire one let's make the most it because it's such a fantastic instrument. We orchestrated a couple of parts, and it became the lead instrument in the couple of songs. In the middle of Funeral Of Dreams for example. We've made a whole song on mellotron which is the title track. The other instrument is a sitar, and I really like the dreamy sound of that instrument as opposed to the kind of commercial/poppy sound. There isn't too much of it. We just used it in a background, it's more for the effect. We've used some female vocals. Alison O'Donnell came up and did vocals on few songs. I think what's different more about this record than the previous one is not so much the instrumentation, more so the way we approached. I think our individuality is showing through it more.
The album definitely has a very balanced feel.
Gaz experimented with his guitar a lot more than he usually does. Normally when we do a record, he just plays on full at all times, but this time he played with more dynamics and more contrast to the sound. Vocally, I tried to things a little bit more experimental this time. I wanted to get away from the shouty type vocals that not necessary dominate our older records but they've been there. I just kind wanted to go for a more relaxed approach this time. Just to make the record sound a little bit heavier.
One of the tracks, Requiem For The Voiceless, which you've mentioned already shows a lot of personal awareness lyrically.
It's an animal rights song. It's one of those songs that was supposed to be scrapped, but our drummer liked it so much he insisted we keep it. Lyrically it's something I've been passionate about since 10 or 11 years old. The subject of animal rights is very dear to me. I still feel about it the same way as I've always did. I think it's shameful the way man treats his fellow living beings. I do think people one day will look back at this period and be ashamed about the way they treated the animals.
Journey Into Jade appears to be a track that sums up everything about Cathedral, even lyrically.
It's a track about the history of the band, really. It's almost like putting a lid on the last twenty years and starting again. The lyrics are all about our albums and EPs. The song is about the journey that got us here. It's just a reflection if anything else.
Why did you name the album The Guessing Game?
I suppose there are few things you could relate that to. I mean people weren't sure whether Cathedral was gonna continue, so it was like a guessing game if we were gonna do another album. That's kind of a silly explanation. The real explanation is the people's existence. The Guessing Game is the guessing game of life. People have to justify their existence through religion or wealth, or state. It's the question of where we came from, why are we here, and where do we go, and the lengths that uncertainty would draw people to some kind of extremism as oppose to relaxing and enjoying the life we have now. All they have to live for is the death because they think there is something better after this life, which to me is the guessing game. Why spend the rest of this life thinking you're gonna go to a better life, better place. That type of thinking makes this life worthless, when it's not.
That's why people get into arts to defy that type of thinking.
Because if that's the only way of thinking out there, and you submit yourself into it, you've lost everything you have.
Well, you'll lose yourself.
How does Cathedral survive when you are not releasing albums or playing shows?
I run a record company which I have been running for the past 20 years. It's called Rise Above Records, and that to me is full time job right now. Luckily for me there aren't too many releases coming out, so I can focus on the Cathedral album at the moment. I can take a little bit of time away from the office to do some Cathedral promotion. Leo (Smee), our bass player, he is in another band named Chrome Hoof. They are very popular at the moment, and they are a very avant-garde type of band influenced by 70s French progressive music. And Gaz is a family man. He has a couple of kids and works in a supermarket. Nothing very glamorous there. Brian (Dixon) is a taxi driver. We are working class kids, really. I suppose the thing with Cathedral is that it's never been an easy ride. That's another reason why it takes five years to get an album together. We know that if we are going to do this it involves a lot. It's not something that comes together in five minutes. Everyone's personal lives have to stop. Getting the songs together in the first place, then recording them, then doing the interviews, and going on tour. We've come to the conclusion that if we have to do more records, we have to do them when we are ready. These are things we leave behind. There's been a couple of times when we recorded albums that we certainly weren't ready to record them. We just want to make sure that everything we do we're happy with.
20 years is a long time to spend together as a band, don't you agree?
It's a long time, I must admit. When it comes to Cathedral, we've never planned anything, and that's the key to still being here. We never planned in terms of success. First and foremost we started this band for the love of music, and that's the reason we still do it now. We've never had any agenda, and I think that's what kept us going through all these years. We actually love what we do. It's hard to imagine Cathedral not being there in our lives, even though there might be delays, but as long as we still have the passion for it we'll still be here.