Cathedral - Forest of Equilibrium
Earache Records
Doom Metal
8 songs (54:10)
Release year: 1991
Cathedral, Earache Records
Reviewed by Charles
Archive review
Ah, the glorious Midlands! Birthplace of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, the much-loved Iron Monkey, and, of course, arguably the most important band in the terrifying section of the metal world generally termed “extreme”, Napalm Death. When Lee Dorrian joined that band, they were notorious for the speed and shortness of their songs. When he left to form Cathedral, he was again to gain a reputation for doing outrageous things with tempo, but this time at the other end.

Of course, the reason the Midlands gave birth to metal is not really because it is glorious. Quite the opposite. It’s as grim and ugly as metal itself. And for all their later psychedelic flights of fancy, with songs about dragons and Planet of the Apes, Cathedral are at their best when they reflect this. Although later albums (such as Endtyme) get more fawningly adored by admirers such as myself, the band were at their most wondrously ugly on their debut, Forest of Equilibrium. Although they would ostensibly seem to be polar metallic opposites, one blues-influenced doom and the other revolutionary extreme grind, early Napalm and the Cathedral of this record have plenty in common. Both seem to be seeing what they can get away with, musically speaking, pretty much having fun at the listeners expense. Whilst the former laughed at those who thought the idea of a 1 second song was stupid, Cathedral here really plumb the depths of how slow and dirty a doom band can sound, daring their audience to ask them to speed it up a bit. They may draw inspiration from more obviously blues-based rockers such as Pentagram, but Forest of Equilibrium is fairly unique in its ability to thud, thud, thud with quite such a scuzzy dourness.

After having spent a while listening to more recent efforts, which tend to be a good deal lighter and, dare I say it, more “stoner”, it is surprising to come back to this and hear just how uncompromisingly down-tempo tracks such as Ebony Tears or A Funeral Request are. The vocals come far closer to the guttural growl of Dorrian’s previous band here than on later records, but the core of it is the riffs. At times they generate this inexplicable quality where it feels like they are gradually grinding to a halt, only to be reinvigorated by a discordant guitar solo or an “ooooohhhyeaaahh”, slumping back into the groove like one of Ossorio’s Blind Dead that so inspire them. These moments are the skullcrushing soul of the album. This clearly isn’t all there is to it. Soul Sacrifice, positioned squarely in the centre of the tracklisting, is a mid-paced heavy rock jam that lasts less than three minutes, in which time it manages to make pretty much any other garage rock band you could name terminally irrelevant with its doomy groove.

There has alway been a mysterious, even otherworldy quality to the band, epitomised by their cover art, which mixes disturbing Bosch-like medieval imagery with curious sci-fi settings. It’s hard to think of anything that could better complement the sound laid down on Forest of Equilibrium. We get our meandering flute interludes to open and close the album, which sit so uneasily alongside the band’s pulsating racket that it feels quite disorientating, like a frame that doesn’t suit its picture in the slightest. A lot of the riffs here, aside from being slow, are also a bit weird, throwing strange melodic shapes that sound a bit wrong, and therefore entirely right (see Serpent Eve).

You could probably make a case for there being better Cathedral albums. But this is a pretty seminal record from one of doom’s greatest bands.

Killing Songs :
Soul Sacrifice, A Funeral Request, Ebony Tears
Charles quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by Cathedral that we have reviewed:
Cathedral - In Memoriam reviewed by Andy and quoted no quote
Cathedral - The Last Spire reviewed by Charles and quoted 92 / 100
Cathedral - The Guessing Game reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Cathedral - The Ethereal Mirror reviewed by Adam and quoted 90 / 100
Cathedral - Endtyme reviewed by Charles and quoted 93 / 100
To see all 11 reviews click here
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