Strange Conflicts of the Past is a collection of demos and EPs from Finnish doom band Cardinal’s Folly. Cardinal’s Folly previously operated under the moniker The Coven, releasing two EPs and a live album before adopting its current name in 2007. Strange Conflicts is comprised of material spanning the years between the group’s name change and the release of its first (and to date only) full-length album, 2011’s Such Power is Dangerous! Included are the EPs Heretic’s Hangover and Orthodox Faces, as well as three unreleased tracks. Though this release was not conceived as a full-length album, the consistent sound quality and songwriting quality of the tracks, and the hour-plus running time make Strange Conflicts of the Past feel like a complete listening experience, and one that serves as a fine introduction to Cardinal’s Folly.
Any Finnish band playing traditional doom is destined to suffer comparisons to Reverend Bizarre, but in the case of Cardinal’s Folly the resemblance to the Reverend is far from trivial and assuredly intentional. Cardinal’s Folly features the exact same trio configuration as Reverend Bizarre, performs much the same style of pure, classic doom, and perhaps most tellingly, vocalist/bassist M. Karnstein blatantly ape’s Albert Witchfinder’s vocal style. It would, in fact, be quite easy and not entirely unjustifiable to dismiss Cardinal’s Folly as an inferior Reverend Bizarre clone. However, in a few ways, Cardinal’s Folly outshines its inspiration. Reverend Bizarre, for all that it created moments of timeless doom magic, could just as often be ponderously dull, beating three chords into the ground for minutes at a time. Cardinal’s Folly, on the other hand, never gets bogged down: its songs always have a sense of energy and forward motion. Cardinal’s Folly also has the edge in the lead guitar department, as now-former guitarist J. Von Lustig, despite a restrained performance, easily bests Peter Vicar’s meager talents in this area, not only with solos, but with some rare but crucial bits of harmony and melody.
Karnstein’s vocals are a double-edged sword for the band: he misses more notes than he hits, and his voice is not quite deep or rich enough to properly pull off some of the low-register work he attempts. On the other hand, the gleeful whoops and hollers at the end of “Right Hand of Doom” and the maniacal shrieks and roars in “Blood Axis Riders” underline a balls-out enthusiasm that is quite endearing.
Traditional doom is not the most fertile ground for creativity, and consequently, Cardinal’s Folly’s musical ideas, while generally solid, have nothing unusual or novel about them. Simple patterns, be they power chords or single notes, rule the day. The band’s appeal comes more from effective song arrangements and a convincing performance than from mind-blowing riffage. The band displays a talent for pacing and dynamics that keep the tracks on Strange Conflicts of the Past lively and engaging despite an average length approaching eight minutes (not counting a few short instrumental tracks). Taking cues from greats like Candlemass and Trouble, Cardinal’s Folly embraces the concept that doom does not have to be slow. Admittedly, the ten-and-a–half-minute “They Found Atlantis” is a bit of a tough slog, but tracks such as “Serpent Nights” and the aforementioned “Right Hand of Doom” balance lumbering doom with climactic ass-hauling conclusions to great effect.
Strange Conflicts of the Past shows Cardinal’s Folly as a competent doom act with a spark of potential greatness. Not having heard the band’s full-length debut, I cannot say whether that spark has yet become a flame, but this compilation has me interested in investigating.