The Guessing Game
posted on 3/2010 By:
My guess is that this game is still gonna leave a lot of people guessing.
After releasing a pair of late-90s underperformers, stoner doom masters Cathedral roared back to life in the new millennium, issuing three solid returns-to-form that culminated in the monstrous Garden Of Unearthly Delights a full five years ago. And now they've gone all sideways again, embracing a serious 60s/70s psychedelic/prog-rock fetish alongside their patent stomping, Sabbath-sized riffage. To say that the Jethro Tull / Camel-isms on hand are unexpected is an understatement, and most are undoubtedly unnecessary, but as repeated listens unfold, to label all of these unprecedented excursions as uniformly unlistenable is unfair. True, they're confounding, completely out of character, and they sit oddly and awkwardly against the more developed, traditionally Cathedral-ian moments like "Edwige's Eyes" and "The Casket Chasers," but a few of them are admittedly not awful.
So The Guessing Game's failure is not wholly one of poor execution of individual newfangled ideas (although some of these ideas are weak, no question). The album’s failure lies more within the disjointed and panoramic scope of those ideas when combined into an eighty-five minute exercise—it’s a failure to rein in myriad inchoate ambitions tossed with seeming abandon across an overlong running. Put in a form more simple: this is a mess, and it’s too long. The Guessing Game cannot decide what it wants to be, and in being something of a prog record, a heavy psyche record, and a metal record, it does none of the three with any seriously engaging result.
Traditionally, Cathedral's biggest asset has not been their semi-legendary vocalist, but rather the massive, massive groovy riffs of Gaz Jennings. Those huge riffs are absent from a full half of this set, and they're underutilized in many of the songs where they aren't missing, derailed by or replaced with clean passages, flute-and-guitar interludes, a half-sung vocal atop what sounds like a xylophone-led jazz-fusion riff... That latter bit is the album's first and foremost whatthehell? moment, as it falls right in the second track "Funeral Of Dreams," some strange combination of tuneless anarcho-punk vocal and Gentle Giant musical arrangement that crops up periodically to sabotage an otherwise decent stoner-doom tune. While those moments falter, others just elongate the entire affair—the instrumental title track, the boring and repetitive "Painting In The Dark," the vaguely Piper-At-The-Gates-Of-Dawn-ish "Cats, Incense, Candles & Wine." The ten-minute closing track ("Journey Into Jade") details the band’s history in ham-fisted lyrical turn, Dorrian himself posing the question of how Cathedral will be remembered twenty years from now. (For their sake, hopefully they won’t be remembered for this record—hopefully, compared to The Carnival Bizarre and the like, this one will slip quietly away as an excusable experiment gone awry.)
So what of these experiments that didn’t fail? Strongest among them is the stuttering and droning "The Running Man," which plays like a mix of about six different tracks of Crimson King-era King Crimson, but still strangely works. The instrumental interlude "One Dimensional People" marries some harmony leads with a cool ascending riff and a destructive bass tone, leading into "The Casket Chasers." Beyond that, Cathedral fans looking for the "real" Cathedral will be stuck with only the few scattered moments of the band's more typical genius, of which "Casket Chasers" is the only track to achieve even the level of Garden Of Unearthly Delights. By the time that tune arrives, two tracks into the album's second disc, we've already been treated to enough baffling turns and clinically interesting but usually emotionally unrewarding sidebars that it feels as though we’re just being played pieces of Lee Dorrian's favorite records and not getting our collective heads stomped on like we did with "Tree Of Life And Death" or "Hopkins (Witchfinder General)."
After all this, I’m left guessing why this is a double album, when well over half of it is clearly unfulfilled filler. Pared down to a single disc, The Guessing Game would be a serviceable record from one of stoner metal’s better units. As it stands, it’s a head-scratcher, and while not a complete waste of time, it’s still a wreck and nowhere near as compelling a record as Cathedral could have and should have delivered after a half-decade absence.
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The Last Spire
The Garden Of Unearthly Delights
The Serpent's Gold
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