rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

02. Mrityunjaya
03. Imposter
04. Selimesh
05. Canticle
06. Abbess
07. Nightmarchers
08. Do We Have Another Battle Left In Us

CARDINAL WYRM hail from the Bay Area. I've been there a couple of times; it didn't seem particularly weird, but clearly I was wrong. You can throw a stick pretty much anywhere in the world and be guaranteed to hit at least two sludgy doom bands, but very few of them have the instant oddball charisma that these bearded ne'er-do-wells use as a weapon throughout "Devotionals". Superficially, this is a straightforwardly superior slab of gruesomely overdriven doom with psychedelic overtones that slaps you around the head. The album's got a swampy but biting production befitting the album's grimly trippy artwork. But those more than adequate first impressions belie a songwriting style that is deeply peculiar, with vocal melodies that spiral and glitch across rolling waves of riffs, leading to an overall sense that CARDINAL WYRM are operating on the brink of real madness, as they squint through one giant, bloodshot Roky Erickson eyeball at the tantalizing gateway to oblivion. Either that or the weed is really fucking good in San Francisco right now. Or, indeed, both.

What we have here is a bunch of eccentrics making wonderfully organic and believable doom metal, but with their shared, skewed perspective adding alien colors and textures at every step. Opener "Gannet" shuffles and lurches like a drug addled VOIVOD, before unleashing a torrent of bluesy sludge circling and swooping like a hungry vulture. "Mrityunjaya" begins with a prime SABBATH-ian thud, veering off on a woozy, acid rock tangent toward a jarring, discordant final descent into blind terror. "Imposter" is a more dynamic, schizophrenic affair, with a downbeat, skeletal intro and a mid-song eruption into MELVINS-like, slug-slither riffing. "Selimesh" is the sound of doom squeezed through the eye of a needle; viscous, angular and oppressive, it revels in wrongness and bad juju. In contrast, "Canticle" and "Abbess" are positively up-tempo and overburdened with wonky riffs, while "Nightmarchers" touches upon epic doom territory, like a throwback to CATHEDRAL's "Endtyme" epiphany of heaviness, but filtered through a post-metal prism.

After all that flagrant soul-evisceration, final tune "Do We Have Another Battle Left In Us" comes as a major surprise. Folky and forlorn, it begins with CARDINAL WYRM in elegiac, quasi-acoustic mode, before another avalanche of dense riff-syrup engulfs the calm and drags everything toward a smoking rubble climax.

When sanity fails, weird is the way forward. "Devotionals" ignores both left and right hand paths, taking an off-the-clock magic carpet through doom's hallowed halls, out of their minds on moonshine and safe in the knowledge that no one else sounds quite like this right now.

Author: Dom Lawson
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