Sound — 8
For some fans, this is THE Cathedral album, even more than the pioneering death/doom classic, "Forest of Equilibrium." In that record's aftermath, it would have been very easy for the band (now considered such innovators), to continue with the "Forest"'s sound.
But Cathedral's sound on "The Carnival Bizarre" added a hefty dose of seventies-style hard rock and dropped the deadly growls in favor of a gravelly, off-key snarl. Were it not for the band name on that (incredibly trippy) album cover, you may have trouble believing it's still Cathedral. As you fold out that dense and busy spread of artwork however, don't be intimidated by its grotesque-ness: "The Carnival Bizarre" is one of the most accessible and enjoyable doom metal records in the subgenre's history.
Lyrics — 8
The, well, "bizarre" characters are like the audience for Cathedral's demented party atmosphere here. When Lee Dorian yells the opening of "Vampire Sun," "ARE YOU HIGH?" one wonders whether they stop their floating, fighting and copulating long enough to respond.
The first trio of songs on "Carnival Bizarre" showcase Cathedral in its new form and constitute the album's peak. "Hopkins" is a loving, grooving sendup to horror movie icon Vincent Price, and the song is peppered with his mellifluous yet sinister quotes from the movie in which he played the title character. Matthew Hopkins is a real historical figure whose life is shrouded in fiction, myth, and legend, and this song is another fine addition to that mystique.
Overall Impression — 8
By "Utopian Blaster," Cathedral has come up with a chugging groove worthy of Tony Iommi, who joins them under the big tent in a noteworthy guest appearance. "Blue Light" is the only song that feels a bit out of place, but its mild atmospheric sense is welcome among the extended doom suites that fill the rest of the record. Songs like the title track and "Inertia's Cave" show Cathedral reaching back for part of that slower, beloved "Forest of Equilibrium" feel. And the entire package - the snappy, raw drums especially - has that intangible, "live in an English Midlands pub" feel that made earlier bands from the region like Black Sabbath so beloved.
Cathedral best channels the spirit of that band on the finale, "Electric Grave," in which Lee Dorian croons in a very Ozzy-like way and the rest of the band seems to discover a level of wah-pedal-infused fury they had kept in reserve. "Electric Grave" (and "Carnival Bizarre" overall) is a recreation of a classic-doom sound, a feat which Cathedral excelled at more than any other metal band of the 1990s.