Interview: Lee Dorian, Cathedral

The doom metalers offer quake catharsis and carnivore guilt on their final tour

All musicians coming to Japan want us to know how special this country is to them. It helps sell tickets. But in the case of Lee Dorian, singer for doom metal band Cathedral and former frontman of grindcore punk legends Napalm Death, the words ring true as he unfolds his obsession with Japanese pop culture.

"I'm not so much into modern anime,” he tells Metropolis by phone from his North London home with the fastidiousness of the true otaku. "I'm more into Spectra Man and Ultraman—the early stuff—the stuff from the late '60s, early '70s."

Another keen interest is Japanese music, especially grindcore and punk from the 1980s.

"The aggression of that music was way more extreme than most European or American bands. When we were young we just wanted to hear the fastest hardest stuff—bands like S.O.B., Lip Cream, Outo, Swankys, and GISM. They were brutal."

As someone who pioneered the "death grunt" style of singing with Napalm Death and then played a key role in establishing the ominous-sounding doom metal genre, Dorian’s own musical background borders on the extreme. When he founded Cathedral 22 years ago, both the name and musical inspiration came directly from the ruined cathedral in his hometown of Coventry, England, destroyed in a 1940 German bombing raid.

"I always thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to form a band that sounds the way that Cathedral looks?' The whole concept of doom metal in its purest form is it's a very expressive form of heavy metal because the music is so slow and it has a lot of space in between the grooves and riffs. It creates a bigger sound than faster-played heavy metal."

Given the fact that Japan has seen plenty of real doom in the past few weeks, how does Dorian feel about bringing over music that is characterized as dark, gloomy, and depressive?

"I don't know what to say about that," he says, the concern obvious in his voice. "We're all completely shocked and horrified by what's happened and I wouldn't suggest you play our music as some way to ease your way through it, because I don’t really know what emotions are like over there. All that doom music can do is to serve as an expression of sorrow and inner angst."

One of the reasons Dorian left his former band and founded Cathedral was because he feels music shouldn’t stand still. Likewise, although Cathedral's sound still contains early doom metal elements, the band has developed a much richer musical palette, something apparent on their latest offering The Guessing Game.

"The first thing you need to do to have longevity in music is to please yourself and hopefully the audience will go with you,” he says. “We never wanted to stay in one place… On the latest album it pretty much goes across every genre of heavy rock to folk and beyond. It covers '60s psychedelia, progressive rock, classic heavy metal, and doom. Our sound has expanded greatly since those early days."

Adding to the mood of musical experimentation is the fact that Dorian now has a busy and successful record label to run. Before writing and recording the album, the band decided that this would be the last album they would tour.

The album is also lyrically innovative in a way that helps Dorian come full circle by mixing Cathedral's typical fantasy, horror and magic themes with his early anarchist and animal rights beliefs. One of the standout tracks is Requiem for the Voiceless, a brooding monster of a song that savages meat eaters.

"In Napalm Death days I used to write songs like that because they fit in more with the music, but with Cathedral there is a lot of escapism, so there never seemed to be a right moment to do a song like that. But on this album we literally thought, 'What have we got to lose? We can do what the hell we want now.' So, we just went for it musically and lyrically."

Apr 20, 7pm, ¥6,000. Club Quattro

Colin Liddell
7th April, 2011

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