Early history and The Forest of Equilibrium (1989–1992)
In 1989, Lee Dorrian left Napalm Death because he was reportedly tiring of the punk scene and did not like the death metal direction which Napalm Death was taking. Cathedral was formed after Lee Dorrian and Mark Griffiths (a Carcass roadie) met and discussed their love for bands like Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Pentagram, Trouble, and Witchfinder General. The band was founded in 1989 by Dorrian, Griffiths and Garry Jennings (formerly of thrash metal band Acid Reign). Dorrian was the only founding member to remain with Cathedral for its duration, although Jennings' departure ultimately proved to be temporary.
Cathedral released The Forest of Equilibrium through Earache and then signed with Columbia. Cathedral's experience on Columbia was described by Dorrian as "surreal". As Dorrian explained,
We weren’t deliberately trying to be pop stars or anything like that, so playing that game just felt very surreal. We weren't exactly comfortable with it. We were an underground band one minute and the next minute they were trying to present us as the next Black Crowes. Can you imagine recording Forest of Equilibrium and a major label wanted to sign you on the strength of that? It was fairly bizarre. I guess heavy music was reaching some kind of pinnacle back then. Death metal had reached its pinnacle back then – at least its creative pinnacle so maybe they saw us as being the next step after that.
The major label and Earache years (1993–2001)
Cathedral's major label debut, The Ethereal Mirror, was noted by Jason Birchmeier of Allmusic for its experimentation, upbeat tempos, and groove-laden guitar riffs. After releasing The Ethereal Mirror in 1993, Cathedral was dropped by Columbia the following year. The band resumed its relationship with Earache Records, which lasted until 2001. During this time, Cathedral released four full-length albums that continued to explore faster rhythms and 1970s-hard rock-influenced guitar riffs before returning to a relatively slow cadence for Endtyme in 2001.
Switching labels and three more albums (2002–2010)
Cathedral signed with Spitfire Records and released The VIIth Coming. After releasing a single album on Spitfire, Cathedral signed to Nuclear Blast for their final three albums. These albums included the "inspired" and "quirky" but "uneven" The Garden of Unearthly Delights, the double-disc The Guessing Game, which was touted as the "most psychedelic, progressive material in the band's entire catalog" and the "true doom" of the band's farewell album, The Last Spire.
The Last Spire and split (2011–present)
While Cathedral had contemplated disbanding in the past, most recently after the release of The Garden of Unearthly Delights in 2006, on 6 February 2011, Cathedral announced that they would disband after the release of The Last Spire in April 2013. Dorrian explained that "It's simply time for us to bow out. Twenty one years is a very long time and it's almost a miracle that we managed to come this far!" Cathedral played their last show in Perth, Western Australia during the Soundwave 2012 tour.
Shortly before the release of The Last Spire, Dorrian told Noisecreep that there will never be a Cathedral reunion, and called that idea "absolutely stupid." Guitarist Gaz Jennings added that chances of a Cathedral reunion are "very, very slim", and that he "just can't see" it happening in the future. He also stated that Dorrian has "moved on" and does not want to be involved in a reunion.
Three out of four of the final members of Cathedral reformed the band Septic Tank not soon after Cathedral's break up.