[Cover artwork by Kim Holm]
If you’re lucky enough to have tremendous knee pain, back pain or other similar joint pain, then it also means you’re old enough to remember the 1990s. (I don’t want to get into a whole thing here but the 1990s is really about 1988 – 1998 here.) I’m not talking about the 1990s that Zara and H&M are attempting to sell you now. I’m not talking about this revival crap or Dan Obstkrieg wearing an “interesting” cardigan. I’m not even talking about JNCO making (or at least attempting) a comeback. I’m talking about the real 1990s. The days of Saved by the Bell, Fresh Prince and Martin. The days of malls with shops like Pacific Sunwear (before they rebranded as PacSun), Merry-Go-Round, Structure and Claire’s. The days when Hot Topic was a great hang-out after getting some Häagen-Dazs (extra scoop because your friend worked there) with your mates. Those are the 1990s I’m talking about.
Those 1990s were also home to many forms of music besides the mantle-piece known as grunge. Chief among the other forms were sludge, punk, hardcore, emo and a totally diverse selection of indie rock (in addition to a complete R&B and hip hop revolution). Fortunately for you, Cardinal Wyrm seems to have taken notice of all of them. This doesn’t mean Cardinal Wyrm isn’t still a totally kickass doom band. That is precisely what they are. But they haven’t been this aggressive, this shreddingly awesome, or this vocally dominant before. Devotionals seems like a true coming out party for Cardinal Wyrm. They are now poised to break-the-funk out of their gloomy bubble and explode worldwide like we haven’t seen since Miley Cyrus toured with Taylor Swift and they both opened up for Lady Gaga.
Chief among the “way to go” trophies on Devotionals has to be the production. Credit to Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios and Brad Boatright at Audiosiege for that. Where Cast Away Souls felt a bit thin, distant and removed, Devotionals does a complete 180-kickflip and pushes the production straight into your ear canals. The guitars are thickly stacked with a support beam of bass riding just below. The drums are perfectly mixed for a doomy affair, with plenty of cymbal separation and plenty of loosely-tuned tom drums slapping away. Another killer touch is the vocal layering where Leila Abdul-Rauf and Pranjal Tiwari (along with backing help from Nathan Verrill) provide some haunting harmonies that sit comfortably inside your midbrain. (And for you Vastum fans, Leila also provides her characteristically unmatched harsh vocals as well.) The result is an album that sounds just as great in your headphones as you fall asleep as it does blasting out of your PT Cruiser along Highway 1.
But that’s not all, Don! You also get more than fifty minutes of pure 1990s-tinged doom perfect for christenings, baptisms and dinner parties. Tracks like “Abbess” call to mind the Cardinal Wyrm of old. They are slow, plodding doom that you might have come to expect from The Cardinal. Services are in session as a guitar solo screeches over the opening riff. The track speeds up as the vocals shakily command the audience’s attention. The verse quickly passes by as the guitar takes control again, creating a sort of call and response between vocals and guitar. The effect is something reminiscent of the more active passages of doom legends Reverend Bizarre.
Earlier, tracks like “Mrityunjaya” reveal more of a trotting rhythm—much more riff-forward than other tracks, and without guitar solos throughout. Rather, the vocals dominate the landscape as the sludgy riff surges forward, supported by off-kilter drums that lurch and pound a steady rhythm that allows the listener to slowly let their tongue slide into the back of their throat. At about the two-and-a-half-minute mark, a guitar solo—less frantic than others—picks out a melody heavily altered with psychedelic effects pedals. All of this is to prepare the listener for the post-solo explosion of riff heaven. What is truly amazing about Cardinal Wyrm is revealed on a track like this; “Mrityunjaya” has plenty of passages and sections all stitched together seamlessly. It’s this adept composition that makes Devotionals such a smashing success.
Let’s talk about the opener “Gannet” briefly. The track smacks of early Nirvana (which, yes, was late 1980s and not the 1990s, but what’s the difference, really?) The solo on this one is just a straight ripper. Just after the three-minute mark, the guitar simply explodes into a fuzzed-out tone of eclectic energy and a frantic, spiraling vigor. This track alone proves that Cardinal Wyrm are here to set their stamp upon the metal scene.
Devotionals truly is a work of genre-bending art. A musical performance piece of desperation, hope and collective rallying. The band stated that their wish for this album was to dial it back to DIY roots. The result is an album that is masterful in composition, execution and packaging. The entirety of Devotionals is something to behold. Do as the band commands and remain independent and confident in your own space, and absolutely powerful in community. And, of course, let this album be the soundtrack of your staunch revolution.