PICK OF THE WEEK: Cardinal Wyrm add strange charisma to doomy stories on bizarre ‘Devotionals’

Photo by Amy Oshit

We’ve come to the end of what has been an utterly miserable, terrifying, infuriating, and crushing year, and this is our final review of 2020, as well as the last Pick of the Week for these awful 12 months. May this year rot in disease and filth and be burned in the annals of time. But we still have a bit more business to conduct, so let’s end this shit with one hell of a bizarre record.

“Devotionals” is the fourth record from Oakland-based doom story weavers Cardinal Wyrm, and this collection might be their most mind-numbing yet. You’re never going to get conventional from this band, and we’re forever thankful for that, but this one took me a few trips before I fully wrapped my arms around it. But it finally sunk in, something that matches the effects of their previous albums, and I was completely engulfed in the madness they create on this eight-track, 50-minute opus. The band—vocalist/drummer Pranjal Tiwari, guitarist/vocalist Nathan A. Verrill, bassist/vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf—takes each track and sets up an entirely different world for each, feeling like they’re drawing from stories and lessons of ages past that remains applicable in today’s fragile society. Yet it all works together as a whole, as wonderfully maddening as it can be at times.

“Gannet” starts the record on a zany path, making you question your decisions, as Tiwari howls, “Something else is here with me, in the dark I feel its weight,” as the track wrenches. Cool soloing lights up the horizons and makes you wonder if you’re about to be swallowed by a beast before gnarly vocals strike, and everything comes to a fittingly weird end. “Mrityunjaya” strikes with trudging power, chanted yells, and warm soloing that hovers in the air. “Hex upon the weakened!” Tiwari repeats with deranged power as the bass thickens, and the psychedelic clouds get so close, you can taste them. The vocals then sprawl, the pace slurs, and we brawl to a finish. “Imposter” starts clean with higher-register vocals and an uncomfortable vibe that’s both dizzying and violent. The drunken playing melts away and gets kind of jazzy, with the bass slithering dangerously before a strong solo burns brightly. The track bustles as clean calls spark, and everything crawls to an eerie end. “Selimesh” is just a mind fuck in the best way with riffs confounding and the playing scrambling your brains. The wild yelps of, “In gog magog!” are impossible to get out of your head and revel in Biblical barbarism while Abdul-Rauf’s vocals add more texture and keep the song sweltering. Things pile up, the guitars scorch flesh, and the track ends in a trail of its own ash.

“Canticle” brings churning guitars and an essence of coolness that shows a different side to this madness. The chorus is another killer with Tiwari calling, “And when you are lost, I’ll be the star you see, so many have found their way to the grave with me.” The guitars then explore before unleashing devastating soloing, leaving one more strike for the chorus before mauling to the end. “Abbess” is another standout, crunching and spiraling into weirdness as the verses warble. “And when she’s dancing on our graves, drunk upon the world she’s made, we’ll know this game was rigged to lose,” Tiwari warns as weird bellowing strikes, and burly power pushes through. The leads lather as the verses add to the intrigue, and Abdul-Rauf viciously growling the track’s title as the song rushes out. “Nightmarchers” cuts in with a classic power metal-style riff that darkens with the barked words. Weighty sludge and speak-like vocals mix with the heavy crunch, adding muscle and glimmering wonder before the door is slammed shut. “Do We Have Another Battle Left in Us” is your closer, and it melts in with chilling bass and a psychological edge, merging into Pink Floyd-style flesh crawling. “But do we have another round? Do we have, our spirits getting thinner, do we have, this fading town, do we have, a place among the sinners?” Tiwari wonders with anxiety as harder punches are thrown, and things continue barreling out of control. The lyrics are lengthy and involved and too much to fully cover here, but at the end, Tiwari calls, “So damn them all, we’ll find escape, with clouds of green and walls of ice, a final place beyond this world, for this we’ll make our sacrifice,” hoping for some kind of salvation as the track ends in illuminated, heated embers.  

It’s fitting we end a tumultuous, chaotic year with this record, Cardinal Wyrm’s deliriously bizarre, dramatic doom throwback “Devotionals,” the most aggressive and ambitious of their four albums. This record won’t be for everyone, and I’m sure they know that, but for those who connect, they likely will hard and with force. This is a captivating, peculiar record that injects some fun back into metal but also leaves you psychologically flattened, which you might find yourself deviously enjoying.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Cardinal-Wyrm-157603967620024/

To buy the album, go here: https://cardinalwyrm.bandcamp.com/album/devotionals,

For more on the label, go here: https://svartrecords.com/

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