The Serpent’s Gold
*Ahem* Even though I didn’t get the full-length version for review (as if I’d sell such a precious totem of the doom genre on ebay or something), I will say that the full-length version of The Serpent’s Gold sounds absolutely drool-inducing. You get a disc full of the hits (which is where my review begins and ends sadly), arranged together in cleverly random order. For instance, the somnambulist suicide rumble of “Equilibrium” slumps down right next to mushroom magic carpet ride “Utopian Blaster.” Then you also get a second disc full of rare and unreleased shit that looks so goddamn choice. The packaging is cool too. The Serpent’s Gold shapes up to be a fine overview of the band that basically served as midwife to the current generation of doom and stoner bands. Not bad work for Napalm Death’s former lead vocalist, eh?
“Ride” sets the stage perfectly for this compilation. It’s a fine example of Cathedral’s later period evolution from not-waving-but-drowning wrist slitters to a more polished band of Sabbath-via-Blue Oyster Cult worshipping howlers and groovers, with Lee Dorrian’s vocal and lyrical performances getting more over the top with each successive album. I obviously prefer the earliest stuff. “Forest of Equilibrium” is always gonna be way up there in my personal metal canon, and Soul Sacrifice is about as deep into their catalogue as I can go before retreating back to the first record, but fair is fair; their change in direction provided a lot of really fun and fucking groovy HEAVY metal. And it’s not like it should be a surprise to anyone, back when I saw them on the Earache Grindcrusher tour wayyyy too long ago, Forest of Equilibrium was the only record out (perhaps best seen as a full stop in and of itself), and yet Dorrian was already honing this over-the-top stage persona along the lines of the Black Crowes Chris Robinson dosed up on thorazine. The writing was on the wall. They wanted to rock, hippie freakout style. So were Cathedral doom metal’s first jam band? I think it’s fair to say (“Stained Glass Horizon” or the shouts of “that’s hot” and “disco supernova” midway through, of all songs, “Cosmic Funeral”). Their mid to later stuff was bellbottoms and kaftans and cosmic vibes all the way, man. Though with teeth. Big nasty teeth. Oh my.
That’s not too say that I don’t take a perverse delight in their more accessible fare, like the Vincent Price homage “Hopkins the Witchfinder General,” a blazing hunk of Hammer-fuelled doom rock that sees Dorrian taking on Price’s role and even sharing a few sampled lines with the great man himself. “Autumn Twilight” is where you can see Cathedral first rising from their despondent torpor and actually beginning to rock. Like a fucking bastard no less. The riffs are downtuned and huge, like wooly mammoths marching to the Burning Man festival. Or something. It’s a fucking great song, and by the time they start trading guitar solos back and forth…… mah god. The handclaps that accompany the main riff on “Midnight Mountain” fucking rule it. Next up is the latter-day version of the one slightly “upbeat” moment from Forest Of Equilibrium, “Soul Sacrifice.” It’s a monster; the guitars were just monuments of fuzz and distorted weight, Dorrian sounded like a dying old man. This one takes me back. It was all about burrowing further into your own depressed psyche, and this was the perfect music for it, no more perspective, only darkness.
“Enter The Worms” sounds like the title, burrowing its way further and further into your subconscious, simple and catchy, with an evil vocal. I love it when Dorrian screams “Are you high? Are you high?” at the beginning of “Vampire Sun.” Goddamn, they had so much fun I can’t begrudge them a thing. “Ebony Tears,” the opening track off Equilibrium makes a totally incongruous appearance right after the jamtastic “Cosmic Funeral.” This was the brilliant template for early Cathedral, so slow and dreary you weren’t sure if half the band had fallen asleep at any given time, the guitars buzzed monolithically and morosely on riffs that were seemingly being played at half-speed, the rhythm section lurched like it had been hit by tranq darts, as Dorrian sputtered and groaned in a defeated roar. The solo is the sound of glass tears. There is no way to stress how heavy this was at the time. Total Melvins godhead. “Melancholy Emperor” is a little more dissonant and grungy. “Voodoo Fire” is almost as campy as “Witchfinder General,” with its voodoo ceremony interlude and evil vocoder. Closer “Imprisoned In Flesh” is gone way too soon, a gentle almost Nick Drake-ish lament. Amazing stuff. Here’s to another ice age.
Earache Records: www.earache.com