Live Review: Cathedral, Shibuya Quattro, 20th April, 2011

When I interviewed Lee Dorian of Cathedral a few weeks back in the immediate aftermath of the Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake, he was still of two minds about whether to bring his band to Japan. He thought that people in a post-disaster situation might be disinclined to enjoy a concert. At that time I did my best to persuade him to the contrary, saying that what people really needed was an excuse to stop moping around feeling depressed and powerless and what better way to achieve that than a heavy metal concert.

Luckily, the band saw things my way and their arrival on stage was much anticipated by a packed Quattro, keen not only to shake off the metaphorical dust of the earthquake but also to see what is being billed as Cathedral's final tour. Due to his growing commitments as a record company boss, Dorian has decided to pull the plug on Cathedral as a touring outfit.

First song Funeral of Dreams, with its straight-sounding, droning metal interrupted by a few interesting time signatures and prog flourishes, has something of a warm-up feel to it. Dorian's voice is not really connecting, but at least Garry Jennings on guitar manages to crank things up nicely with some psychedelic fret burning.

The doomy opening chords – low, heavy, and menacing – black mood, and snarling riff of Enter the Worms from their 1993 album, The Ethereal Mirror reminds us that Cathedral are a doom metal band, although in recent years their musical palate has widened considerably. As the song nears its end, Dorian dramatically wraps the microphone lead around his throat in a garrotting gesture. This is not purely playacting but also a comment on the sound mixing. When the song ends he asks for more vocal amplification, and while the tech boys do that he addresses the crowd.

"Alright Tokyo, it's been a while," he greets the appreciative audience. "It's been a few years since we played. Six years or so. But we’re going to go back a few hundred years, in fact 600 years, to a place called North Berwick, and we want to see as many fists in the air and as many heads banging as humanly possible."

The band then launch into North Berwick Witch Trials, a dark paean to dark events that happened in Scotland a long time ago. With its great, punkish riff, brooding sense of menace and element of boogie, this is a crowd pleaser. Dorian's voice is now getting on top of the music and Jennings, his bald, shiny head a startling contrast to his colleagues' long hair, responds with some more inspired breaks.

The acid funk metal of Midnight Mountain keeps the energy level high, then Dorian announces that they are going to slow things down as they go back to their doom metal roots with Cosmic Funeral. Dorian's anguished, drawn-out singing, Jenning's chiming bell-like chords, and Brian Dixon's slow pile driving drumming digs a deep grave-like groove that the band then energetically explore with a more revved up energetic rock and roll feel, giving a master class in how great doom metal works. One classic is followed by another with Carnival Bizarre and its difficult time signature changes all skilfully navigated by Jenning's fluid guitar, which ranges from stoner riffs and punk breaks, to prog flourishes above a rumbling bed of rhythm.

The song ends with Dorian apparently exhausted, slumped facing the drum kit. When he re-emerges for the next song, the ghostly, satanic-sounding Night of the Seagulls, the microphone’s bulbous head has been completely inserted into his mouth in a weird ritualistic act of aural gagging. What follows is another dark, expansive aural adventure with plenty of musical amplitude and skilful interplay.

There is nothing off their latest album, last year’s Guessing Game, tonight. The band has obviously decided to only play the songs they know inside out from long experience on the road. Ebony Tears is dedicated to their local contacts, including Japanese stoner metal band Church of Misery, which is signed to Dorian's own label.

The extremely low tuned fuzzy bass fills the room with dark fuzz as a dark, unapologetically morose piece of doom unfolds a turgid mass of snarling lugubrious sleepwalking riffs – strangely effective going by the audience reaction as we now see the first crowd surfer of the evening. As he lands in the security trench in front of the stage, he politely bows and apologizes to the security staff before being led back to the audience, but his apology is not that sincere as he's back for the next song, the faster, bouncier Casket Chaser.

On the Sabbath-esque Corpsecycle the next surfer over is a gaijin. He manages to hit one of the security guards smack in the eye with heel of his boot. Despite the guard's obvious pain, he quickly resumes his poker-faced duties. The rollicking NWOBHM vibe of Ride puts me in mind of Bad News, a one-time comedy band a la Spinal Tap that entertained TV audiences back in the 80s and was bottled off the main stage at the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donnington, but nevertheless a great band (they were produced by Brian May!). There is a similar element of slightly comic excess about Cathedral, which makes the band all the more endearing.

This is the last song of the set before the encores, which are a foregone conclusion given the audience reaction. The band re-emerge and Dorian tells the audience to "go fucking nuts" as they launch into a rousing version of Vampire Sun. The original crowd surfer, a man with long hair, facial hair and glasses, takes Dorian at his word and goes over again. This time the security guards are not pleased to see him, leading to a bit of aggro, but I give him a pat on the back. Turns out he’s a mad left-wing anarchist, who wants to "destroy all government," so maybe not so mad after all.

The band closes its career in Japan with an old crowd favourite tantalisingly introduced by Dorian. "You think my name is Lee Dorian," he says. "But I'm not. I know where you live. Watch out you women who practice witchcraft because I am Matthew Hopkins Witchfinder." The audience are swept up one more time in the song's addictive groove with the ladies in the audience looking particularly pleased with themselves. "Yeh, we're witches and we f**kin' love it," they seem to be thinking.

Colin Liddell

5th May, 2011
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