Supernatural Birth Machine
Review by Rosh on November 14, 2023.
Everyone with an even slightly deeper knowledge of metal post-1980's seems to know about Cathedral and why shouldn't they? Lee Dorrian's musical vision beyond hardcore and death/grind carried doom metal into its second wave with monumental albums like Forest of Equilibrium which is still a unique, irreplaceable, emotional classic I feel a lot of connection with. Yet despite this and the fact they were a fairly prolific band, it seemed like with each subsequent album or EP, the heavy metal and even doom metal world cared less and less about them up until their last couple releases. Sure, "Ride" and "Hopkins" are a few standards we remember this band for, but mid-90's albums like Cosmic Requiem or Carnival Bizarre seem to be stuck in an odd spot because they were way heavier than the 1990's stoner rock they got lumped in with but at the same time they were not nearly as bleak or mournful as the debut, which may have alienated the new fans of doom metal who liked the extremity of Cathedral (keep in mind the death metal/grind scene would've heard of this band in their formative years) but weren't necessarily aware of the music's roots in Pentagram and Witchfinder General.
Aha, yes my friends, by the latter statement, I DO mean to imply that Carnival Bizarre and this forgotten album Supernatural Birth Machine are for the most part still just sheer doom metal albums just as much as the latter two traditional doom bands - it's just that Forest of Equilibrium is so bleak that it makes Be Forewarned sound like Rush self-titled! Now I know what you're gonna say, "aren't Cathedral stoner metal especially during this period?" Eh. The stoner rock influence is evident but not substantial I'd say, where's the "Molten Universe" by Kyuss-sounding progressions? And the weird cover art Cathedral has always had and the funny, colorful song titles here don't make it primarily stoner metal either. But yeah, I love Supernatural Birth Machine because it's a very consistent package of late 1990's doom and examining strictly the music here reveals that.
The intro called "Cybertron 71/Eternal Countdown" sets a really serene and foggy mood, like being on a silent procession through a humid rainforest, and this is partially because of the fact that the production on Supernatural Birth Machine is a bit less crisp than the previous Cathedral albums, but I actually really like that. Lee's vocals are really beautiful on this intro track and I certainly dig it when an album intro has lyrics and not just music/sound. I think the singing Lee performs at this part is a fine example of his more melodic vocal abilities, but then on "Urko's Conquest" he totally lets out a huge burst of energy albeit not sinister sounding like on the first album. Gaz Jennings' riffs totally remind me of the Maryland doom band Iron Man not just on this song but on doom slugs like "Birth Machine 2000", "Dragon Ryder 13", and "Magnetic Hole" too. I think he's a superb guitar player with a unique style much like Victor Griffin from Pentagram and Al Morris III from Iron Man. Brian's drumming isn't very technical here but I think his playing adapts according to the mood of each song, a department in which this album has lots of variety. It can go from the doom slugs I mentioned about to something like "Phaser Quest" which is one song here I would call stoner rock, but the doomier, more Sabbath influenced kind. Speaking of Sabbath I love how "Stained Glass Horizon" kind of borrows a bit from the awesome songs "Lord of this World" and "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" but totally feels fresh. Cathedral were really good at that kind of thing!
The production here, like I said, is muddier than on The Carnival Bizarre but it gives this album more of a hidden gem feel to it, at least that's the vibe it gave me. Kind of like there's dust on the disc or record from not being played for a while and that somehow makes it sound this way. Now, I'm pretty fucking sure I mention this in every review, but my one nitpick here is the bass. It needs to be louder, I'd honestly add 5 points to the score just for that. Leo Smee is a solid but sadly unknown bassist whose style and tone may remind you of a cross between the heavier Alice in Chains songs, modern Candlemass (just not as cleanly produced), and maybe even Reverend Bizarre. It has this sort of punch to it, but it's like a precise jab rather than a massive haymaker. Odd, I know, but you just gotta hear it, like in the intro to the song "Nightmare Castle." Leo's work is great both in Cathedral and in the modern heavy/doom metal band Age of Taurus.
Overall I get a lot of shit for digging this album so much but I don't care. I have to be in the right mood to listen to Forest of Equilibrium honestly even though it's amazing, but this I can listen to in any mood yet I feel it's still a hearty helping of doom metal. Some of you may assert that the songwriting is a bit uninspired here but I think it just has a looser feel than other doom albums. Besides, I also like Children of Doom and II: Crush the Insects which are supposedly sub-par doom albums, so what the hell do I know?
Rating: 9.2 out of 10202