Fight Fire with Fire: ‘Forest of Equilibrium’ vs. ‘Gothic’

Fight Fire With Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?

This time around, we’re going back to some classic doom discs, although the comparisons kinda stop there. And that’s what makes this round of Fight Fire with Fire so difficult; Cathedral‘s Forest of Equilibrium and Paradise Lost‘s Gothic are both 1991 doom records, sure, but aside from that, I go to these albums for very different reasons.

Cathedral’s debut is a massive documentation of slower-than-slow sludge-out doom, an impossible record to conquer unless you fully commit to the commiserating, an absolute mountain of a release. Paradise Lost’s second record is easier to digest, with the band delivering more up-tempo goth-doom-death often sent to the listener in a satisfying rock song structure, but never without an incredible heaviness of both sonics and spirits.

So, different end results but both travel the path of doom to get there. But which one stands the test of time as a true monument to the genre? Well, they both do. But which one is—gulp—better? Read on to find out our analysis as we journey through two of the greatest documentations of misery ever recorded.

Cathedral – Forest of Equilibrium

Forest of Equilibrium was a shocker when it dropped, those of us knee-deep in Earache Records DM at the time being taken aback by the record’s sludgey doom. But as a young lover of anything extreme, I loved this record then and I love it now.

Opening intro “Picture of Beauty and Innocence” rules, as far as really short flutey intros go; it leads into massive, destructive doom anthem “Commiserating the Celebration.” I can’t say enough good things about this song, both the monolithic caveman doom riffing and the impact it had when it dropped when this album hit shelves in ’91. But we tend to forget the glory-ride riff at 6:46, the fact that the band does more than just suffocate here, the victory that is actually underneath all the sorrow.

“Ebony Tears” brings more massive, earth-annihilating riffs and this sense of decaying majesty that Cathedral did so well. That main riff is one for the ages, as memorable as any doom riff you could possibly face it off with, the other band in today’s competition being the only one who can really lay down doom riffs like this, ones you can remember even if you haven’t spun the album in, literally, years (although I’m not sure what kind of life you’re living if you go years without spinning this stuff).

“Soul Sacrifice” is, of course, the one quick doom stomper (the band would go on to make it even faster on the follow-up EP of the same name), Cathedral suddenly dropping a less-than-three-minute rocker on this album full of extremely long songs. It’s a fun little burst of trad doom rockin’, and it would foreshadow the radical change of direction to come in the albums following this one.

“A Funeral Request” is a massive album centerpiece, 9:16 of slow-moving doom perfection. And that’s a closing riff to die for. Kinda-title track “Equilibrium” continues the theme: huge, sweeping, tar-drenched and glorious doom, leading us to closer “Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain,” an epic, sorrowful, majestic swath of deep purples and ravishing doom metal.

Sure, this isn’t an easy album to listen to. If you throw it on casually, you’re likely to tune out by the time “Serpent Eve” hits (that’s track three, FYI, and it rules). But if you put it on and let it wash over you, let the doom envelop you and the glorious riffs take you places high and low, there are few listening experiences that can rival Forest of Equilibrium.

Of course, Gothic is one of them.

Paradise Lost – Gothic

Paradise Lost’s first album, 1990’s Lost Paradise, is really good, but it was with their second, ’91’s Gothic, that the band really found themselves. The opening title track is absolute gothic doom perfection, Paradise Lost immediately laying down a genre classic cut. The scream of “paradise!” in “Dead Emotion” rules, and when the band picks up the pace, the seeds of what will become their next-Metallica perfection are there, to be explored and solidified over their next three albums.

“Shattered” absolutely rules, the band’s penchant for victory riffs all over the place here, and “Rapture” threatens cool post-punk before laying down an alarmingly fast doom/death stomp, heavy on the doom and light on the death, but still more Earache ’91 than anything on Forest of Equilibrium, oddly.

“Eternal” finds the band settling into rock-god mode, as well as shoulda-been-hit-single mode, with one of the greatest doom-rock songs of all time; those keyboards rule (which is not something I say often), and this shows how well the band was progressing into songwriting perfection.

“Falling Forever”’s jittery stops and starts are legendary, but the album dips a bit later on; “Silent,” for example, rules on its own but taken in the context of the album it’s just one more brilliant goth-doom-death song, although perhaps without enough personality to make me remember it when it’s over. I mean, “just one more brilliant goth-doom-death song” is not the worst problem to have, considering how many not-brilliant goth-doom-death albums I’ve sat through since Gothic dropped all those years back.

“The Painless,” the last song with vocals here, ends things off on a stately, kingly note; this is a killer song, the band getting it all right here, and establishing themselves as a very unique band in metal, songs like this, really, not coming out of anyone else, then or now (yes, we like Paradise Lost a lot: we published a book about them, after all).

The production on Gothic has always kept me from feeling completely connected to it, compared to the warm/cold embrace of personal favorite Shades of God. Here, the songs deserve a sound that is isn’t quite as thin, the riffs screaming for better. I’m usually the one screaming from the rooftops for more raw production sounds, but Gothic doesn’t sound raw as much as it sounds almost… Look, the damn thing just needs more bass and it bugs me. Still, small complaint in the face of such massive metal might, though, because, really, what an album, heavy as the heaviest doom but with enough rock economy to keep it light, the truly exciting sound of a band coming into their own and taking their roots while expanding on them in a legitimately interesting direction.

But is it enough to topple the monument that is Forest of Equilibrium?

I never take any of my Fight Fire With Fire exercises lightly, but this one was one of the toughest. After much deliberation, air drumming and face-grimacing, I have to put the untouchable doom heavyweight champion Forest of Equilibrium in the winning spot today, for its perfect distillation of doom, for its boldness, for taking me places that no other record takes me. Forest of Equilibrium is a statement the likes of which we see very rarely in extreme metal, it’s a band absolutely in their zone (on their debut, no less), and it’s a sonic commitment of huge proportions, and today it is our miserable, dour and probably very stoned winner in a battle that has left me drained and destroyed, like only the greatest doom can.