Fear. And more specifically, fear of the unknown. That’s the big one. The single heaviest emotion that drives people to hide, drink, weep, not sleep, “see the light,” or, in a best case scenario, soldier in headfirst with both arms swinging. Fear of the unknown bites, badgers, elicits and smashes like a ten-ton hammer. And if you’re a particularly good & grim artist, you might find a way to harness this emotion’s power to give people something that actually draws them in, as opposed to frightening them away. We are all unified by our fears of the unknown, and discovering outlets that serve as some strange companion to this communal unease can be vital for keeping one’s head above the waves. It’s impossible to know how many bands have attempted to achieve this sort of connection, and I’m sure some have accomplished the task without even trying.
In a recent interview with Decibel, the two principle members of Oakland, California’s Cardinal Wyrm, Nathan Verrill (guitars) and Pranjal Tiwari (drums and vocals), revealed a few of the particulars responsible for influencing the core of Cast Away Souls, their third release in four years. To paraphrase, the album largely explores a semblance of being stuck – trapped between the depths and the heavens, and attempting to manage a path amidst (and perhaps directly into) these realms. One of the band’s true windfalls is that they implement each album’s preferred motifs with lyrics that are as essential to the overall ambition as the notes that swirl about them:
Anoint the rusted cups
And un-bless these holy seas
Filled to the brim with crimson
Drink deep your blasphemies
For years we lived as spirits
Parade the world as ghosts
Emerge now cold and weary
Into the arms of the final host
“The Resonant Dead”
It’s the end of the fall
And the time of the winds
Hear the creaking of boards
And the voice of the storm
A thimble of vinegar is all
That separates the soul
From ruin and regret
The sound of all of those that we lost
Resounds with every step
So it is loss, it is life, it is death, it is the void, and for many of us, it is the fear that walks hand-in-hand and how we choose to endure or suffer it. And what better way to explore emotions such as this than with a crux that’s largely focused on one of our most heartrending offshoots: Doom. This record is as doomy as the day is long – cut from the fabric of the masters – and it’s closest to a “Finnish feel” because it’s also weird as Hell. With a broad vision that’s symbolic of the Bay Area, Cardinal Wyrm is defiant toward strict genre definitions and proves themselves, once again, proficient at rendering numerous hues. Cast Away Souls is funereal without being funeral, classic without feeling dusty, and progressive without sounding proggy. A song such as “The Resonant Dead” spends the bulk of its opening minutes casting a beautifully dejected spell that’s reinforced through Tiwari’s gloomy croon, but a rollicking bass lick and rousing cry around 3:40 ushers in a long stretch of battle-forged trad-metal galloping that could just as easily be delivered by some raw walloper on a label like Heavy Chains.
And just when you start to feel like you understand the basic gist, a wrench gets thrown in the gears with “Grave Passage,” a cut that starts off with a repeating tractor-heavy bass line and Nathan’s playfully jangly guitar style that ends up giving the overall mood something of a Melvins vibe, if that band had spent more time obsessed with weirdos like Unholy. It’s often difficult to stick a precise pin on what you’re hearing, which is testament to the band’s uniqueness. You probably wouldn’t get thrown to the lions if you referred to them as a galumphing oddball metal band that’s gloomy, doomy & regal, and whose members are influenced as much by Reverend Bizarre as they are bands from Amphetamine Reptile and perhaps even Axiom (for the genre bending, mostly, not the funk. And because Nathan’s lead at the onset of “Soul Devouring Fog” is as Sonny Sharrock/Ask the Ages as I’ve heard from someone who isn’t the man himself). Basically, Cardinal Wyrm is a perfectly eccentric fit for an unconventional label like Svart, and they’re tailor-made for music fans who appreciate intrepidness.
Another thing worth mentioning is the fact that the addition of Leila Abdul-Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune, Vastum) to the ranks has a noticeable effect on Cast Away Souls. Not only does she deliver the heaviness those familiar with the band expect to hear from the bass, she adds another pleasant layer to the clean vocals, as well as throwing in a touch of woozy, ghostly horns to increase the eerie mood of opener “Silver Eminence” and the fantastic mellow duet at the midpoint that is “Lost Orison.” She is herself a longtime purveyor of multiple genres, so her involvement is an ideal compliment to an already peculiar machine.
Also alluded to in the Decibel interview is the notion of “immersive experiences” and the fact that Cardinal Wyrm play a style that caters to those who haven’t lost their appreciation of music that holds true to that tradition. That’s not to say you couldn’t throw on just one song and enjoy it, but Cast Away Souls feels as if it’s intended to be a full 45-minute trek whenever the mood strikes. And accordingly, it takes time to let the full color spectrum work its way into the marrow. This music paints a story very much in line with what artist Kim Holm (Solstafir, Vreid) has illustrated for the cover: Light and dark; beauty and grimness; eerie, but just warm enough to make the overall trip into the unknown really rewarding and worth doing over and over again.