Legendary doom metal band Cathedral announced their split in 2011 after twenty-odd years and prior to the recording of their final studio album, 2013’s “The Last Spire”.
That album was, oddly perhaps, the only studio album by the band that was released through Cathedral founder and main-man Lee Dorrian’s own record label, Rise Above Records, which has been in operation since the late 1980s. Since the group’s split Dorrian has devoted himself solely to work connected to the label.
Another Rise Above act were Electric Wizard, who released seven studio albums and a number of EPs through the label between 1995 and 2010.
However, in 2013 Electric Wizard founding member vocalist / guitarist Jus Osborn (who had started the band with drummer Mark Greening and bassist Tim Bagshaw) stated in an interview that “…we have a new LP but it cannot be released. Rise Above Records have a lawyer to stop us releasing records or even using our name. Of course we are fighting…but with the law it is all money, money, money…. Maybe our fans will convince them to treat us with respect.”
Back in 2003 Greening and Bagshaw had parted company with Electric Wizard and formed a new band Ramesses. However in 2012 Greening returned to Electric Wizard for the “Time To Die” album – the first release on their own label after the problems with Rise Above.
Greening was let go after recording “Time To Die” – somewhat acrimoniously it would seem, as Greening states “I haven’t even heard “Time To Die” yet – they still haven’t paid me for writing and recording the album or even given me a copy of it” – and he joined forces again with Bagshaw (who handles both guitar and bass) to make music, with the intention that Greening would sing.
However, having spoken with Dorrian about Rise Above releasing their material, Greening and Bagshaw then invited Dorrian to become the singer for the new venture, named With The Dead.
Given the issues between Rise Above and Electric Wizard, that may seem surprising, but maybe it’s indicative that the problems were specific to Dorrian on one side and Osborn and his long-term bandmate, guitarist Liz Buckingham (who is also his partner), rather than the whole band, on the other. With each side blaming the other and claiming the moral high ground who can say?
So, what to make of With The Dead? Is it a case of Electric Wizard meets Cathedral, or something entirely different?
Well, to my ears it’s more a case of the former – unsurprisingly really. That said, there is little in common with latter-day Cathedral as their final few releases had something of a progressive rock element to them.
This is a brutally heavy record, with Dorrian explaining that the goal was to “make the most crushing, oppressive heavy album we can make with the rawest performances”. That goal has most definitely been reached.
After a brief sample the album proper kicks off with the fuzz-heavy “Crown Of Burning Stars”. Bagshaw’s bass and guitar playing are super heavy, Greening pummels his kit for all he’s worth and Dorrian does his thing, sounding rather like the evil-looking priest that he resembles on the album cover. There’s nothing flashy or showy here, it’s all basic and raw, and very powerful.
“The Cross” picks up the tempo a fraction – but we’re not talking thrash metal speed here folks – and in case that’s too much they dial it back again for third track “Nephthys”, named after the mythological Egyptian goddess who symbolised death.
Even more crushing and slower again is “Living With The Dead” which has an almost tranquil section around halfway through its near eight minute duration before Dorrian’s otherworldly screams usher the heaviness back in.
“I Am Your Virus” is the most concise number, at just over five and a half minutes, and then the closing funereal epic “Screams From My Own Grave” which feels rather like the aural equivalent of a grainy 1970s horror movie.
With just six tracks coming in at just over forty minutes – very much as albums used to be in the vinyl era before CDs came along and practically doubled the available space – the record doesn’t outstay its welcome. All but one track is over six minutes, and the final number approaches nine minutes.
Make no mistake though, listening to this feels longer than forty minutes – in a good way – such is the slowness and heaviness on offer. There’s no reinventing the wheel with regard to doom metal but I reckon you’ll struggle to find much more authentic sounding traditional doom metal elsewhere right now…
“With The Dead” tracklist:
1. Crown Of Burning Stars / 2. The Cross / 3. Nephthys / 4. Living With The Dead / 5. I Am Your Virus / 6. Screams From My Own Grave