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Review: Cathedral - The Carnival Bizarre
The Carnival Bizarre

Label: Earache Records
Year released: 1995
Duration: 1:02:48
Tracks: 10
Genre: Heavy/Doom

Rating: 5/5

Review online: April 16, 2021
Reviewed by: Mjölnir
Readers Rating
The Carnival Bizarre

Rated 4.59/5 (91.76%) (17 Votes)

You know, I don't think I'll ever get over the bizarre career trajectory Cathedral had. Quite how a band formed by former Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorian went from pulse-slowing Death/Doom to a quirky, rocking Doom sound in the span of a few years is something scholars for years to come would debate over if it mattered in the slightest. What does matter is the fact that said trajectory got us their third studio album, The Carnival Bizarre, which represents both the purest distillation of what people mean when they say a band sounds like Cathedral and the peak of their career.

This album is the logical next step from The Ethereal Mirror, as it doubles down on their '70s rock inspirations and dials back the Doom a little bit to do so, straying even further away from the drug-induced dread of older works and firmly into the camp of quirky, almost cartoonish Doom with heavy doses of traditional, psychedelia, and even blues that refined the old-school sound in a way that no one else really bothered with. That sounds like it'd be a mess on paper, and a lesser band would have absolutely fucked it up, but what kept Cathedral from getting too ridiculous was their undeniable ear for killer riffs and a fearless trust in their songwriting that made every bizarre flourish feel natural in their strange and macabre sound.

None of that is to suggest the band sacrificed their heaviness for this, as opener "Vampire Sun" and the crushing "Inertia's Cave" can attest, it's just utilized a little differently than before. Cathedral became a four-piece on this release, allegedly after Tony Iommi noted they sounded better as a one-guitar band, and this led to Gaz Jennings' guitar work being bluesier and more reminiscent of Black Sabbath than ever before to compensate, but this slight change in his approach led to his very best work and some of the greatest Doom riffs and leads you'll ever hear. The rest of the band are no slouches either, and I don't think they ever sounded this tight afterwards, with Smee and Dixon's rhythm work staying precise no matter what strange turn the songs take and Lee's maniacal ravings being more energized and inventive than they'd ever be again. This all comes together to create heavy and creative masterworks like the oddball title track and the rocking fan favorite "Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)", the latter of which might be their best song period. They even leave room for more experimental tracks, like the creepy "Night of the Seagulls", which sports eerie chanting and a freaking mellotron, and the clean psychedelic number "Blue Light", both of which still feel right at home despite how different they are from the rest of the album.

Cathedral would go on a downward slide after this, still managing a couple of good albums before running out of gas and producing crap like The VIIIth Coming and The Garden of Unearthly Delights, and with how good this album is, it's not hard to see why, as there wasn't really anywhere else to take this sound. Even nearly 30 years later, The Carnival Bizarre remains a fresh and iconoclastic release, capable of rocking the fuck out while retaining enough mood and menace to be called Doom, and while many have taken inspiration from it, none have ever truly matched it. Timeless.

Other related information on the site
Review: Endtyme (reviewed by Lars Christiansen)
Review: Forest of Equilibrium (reviewed by Mjölnir)
Review: Soul Sacrifice (reviewed by Mjölnir)
Review: The Ethereal Mirror (reviewed by Mjölnir)
Review: The Garden Of Unearthly Delights (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: The Guessing Game (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
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