With its penchant for theatrics and melodrama combined with its nerdily camp subject matter, trad doom often walks a tightrope between the excellent and the ridiculous, with the keenly honed songcraft of the genre’s greats usually causing them to fall on the former side. In Black Hole Gods, California’s Cardinal Wyrm are not so lucky.
Opener ‘Deep Within’ starts strongly, with a chunky riff that bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘Sabbath‘s ‘Iron Man’, but quickly falls on its face when vocalist Pranjal Tiwari enters with a melody that is part christmas carol, part something he made up on the spot. Indeed, weak melodies plague Black Hole Gods throughout, with Tiwari consistently trying to cram more syllables into his lines than scansion allows for. This is a bigger problem than it might be for say, a death metal band because this brand of doom relies so heavily on strong yet simple vocal hooks. Equally, note choice seems to have been neglected with many lines having little resolution and leaning very heavily on unisons with the riffs underneath.
Black Hole Gods may have its flaws, but stylistic focus isn’t one of them, and Cardinal Wyrm definitely manage to paint a clear picture of what they were going for with this record. There are hints of Reverend Bizarre and Messiah era Candlemass in this album, from the descending powerchord stomp of ‘Born in a Barren Land’ to the church organ reverence of ‘Warden of The Swans’, but despite nailing the former’s pomp Cardinal Wyrm utterly fail to tap into their energy and bounce, and simply don’t have songwriting chops to successfully ape the latter. The rich, earthy production job too is straight out of the trad canon, the mix featuring warm, pleasantly saturated guitars contrasted with frosty tinkling organs and just the right amount of vocal reverb, but while this is certainly an asset and the individual tones are very pleasant, it’s not enough to save the record from the tyranny of crap songwriting.
If you’ve read on ’til now you’ll have a fairly clear idea of what I think of Black Hole Gods. But to clear, it isn’t an utter train crash, it’s just “a bit rubbish”. Any one of the songs on here could be a filler track on a better record, and in a way, that’s kind of more disappointing than if it were a truly spectacular failure. The few genuinely decent riffs and interesting musical ideas are spread thinly enough that it’s just hard to get excited about any of the songs. In some ways Black Hole Gods is a victim of how healthy doom as a genre is at the moment. With such a surfeit of great doom records appearing in the last couple of years, this is poor fare indeed.
Cardinal Wyrm’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cardinal-Wyrm/157603967620024