Cathedral has been around for a long time. They were one of the forefathers of doom metal, a plodding, brooding genre typified by Sabbathesque riffery and Crowleyan lyrics. It's a surprisingly satisfying style of rock, in the same way a good (or bad) scary movie captivates you and maintains your attention.
For their part in the doom movement, Cathedral have always been more inventive then their peers. Not satisfied with the basic tools of the trade, they've employed everything from disco beats to a horn section in painting their own personal vision of hellfire and damnation.
On their latest release, Supernatural Birth Machine, they stay a little bit closer to the tree of their origin, eschewing some of the brazen out-on-a-limbness of their previous release, the Hopkins: The Witchfinder General EP. This time, it's pretty much the basic ingredients: solid rhythm, thick, crunchy guitars pounding out beats that somehow make your stomach move around within you, and the vocals that you either love or hate.
Lee Dorrian's style of singing can be an acquired taste; I acquired it rather quickly, while, for instance, my wife has acquired an increasing hatred for it. Oh well, go figure. Lee's gravelly, somewhat strained voice may not be the order of the day for a polka party or church picnic ("Who is this singing? Satan?" one of my friends asked after I introduced them to Cathedral for the first time), but it is perfect for the kind of music Cathedral plays.
Now, about this album: it's not the best Cathedral album - that honor still goes to The Carnival Bizarre, their previous full-length effort - but it is quite good, and, like all of their work, a great deal of fun to listen to. As I mentioned, the music returns a bit to conventional doom territory, which in this case is a good thing - there just aren't enough good doom albums, and we'll take all we can get.
Lyrically, Supernatural Birth Machine suffers a bit. It seems that the boys have been listening to an awful lot of older Voivod lately, as evidenced by the cheesy sci-fi tales on this album. Voivod, in their time, was the premier cyberpunk band, and they did it a good five or six years before anyone else even imagined it; Cathedral is arriving at this party a bit late, and what once may have been cutting edge is now just campy. Cathedral does better dealing with topics they're familiar with: hell, eternal suffering, burning witches, ancient curses…you know, good Sunday morning fare.
If you're new to Cathedral, I'd recommend either the Hopkins EP, or The Carnival Bizarre as starting places. But you're going to quickly fall in love with them - even if they are a bit of a guilty pleasure, at least admit they're a pleasure - and in time you'll move on to this album.