Cathedral

The Garden of Unearthly Delights

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Although Cathedral have long been treated as a fireproof doom/stoner institution, the God's honest truth is that, following those first few, legend-building albums, most of their subsequent releases have contained no more than two or three great songs surrounded by copious amounts of filler. And no, this isn't about taking the band for granted either -- just admitting a cold hard truth that's made all the more evident by 2005's still flawed but appreciably improved The Garden of Unearthly Delights. If only one could affirm that it was an unconditional return to top-of-the-line, energetic British doom. Starting with its back-to-basics cover art created by longtime artist David Patchett (featuring a suitably disturbing and baroque gothic collage), Cathedral's eighth full album does issue early warnings of a comeback, thanks to the mighty-riffed "Tree of Life & Death," the astonishingly melodic (and cleverly titled) "Corpsecycle," and Gaz Jennings' overpowering six-string tour de force, "Oro the Manslayer." "North Berwick Witch Trials" would have also merited inclusion in this positive balance, were it not for its clear and unapologetic recycling of The Carnival Bizarre's ancient classic, "Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)"; and the best that one can say about lesser lights such as "Fields of Zagara" (a short acoustic interlude) and "Beneath a Funeral Sun" (marked by creepy children's choirs) is that they are, at the very least, interesting in their weirdness. But if there's one damning complaint about The Garden of Unearthly Delights, it's aimed at the chaotic, 27-minute (you read right, 27!) semi-title cut, "The Garden," whereupon Cathedral proceed to sift through a bottomless grab bag of often wonderfully promising ideas, only to jam them together in unexpected and mostly ill-advised configurations, and then, worse of all, abandon many infuriatingly under-explored. For a band that's battled issues of consistency for years on end, such haphazard wastefulness (imaginative, daring, and eclectic to be sure, but still predominantly wasteful) simply won't do. All of which makes this album a better than average Cathedral outing -- just inspired and quirky enough to keep you interested, just uneven enough to piss you off.

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