02. The Right Hand of Doom
03. Rasputin (The Mad Monk)
04. Opening Ceremony
05. Serpent Nights
06. Blood Axis Raiders
07. Cardinals Folly
08. They Found Atlantis
09. The Model
10. Transmission from the Mad Arab
With all my waxing lyrical about how generally great the albums I’ve been exposed to since I started writing for this site are, it was inevitable I wouldn’t be able to keep riding that wave forever. Strange Conflicts of The Past, an album collecting rare or otherwise not readily available past releases from Finnish doom metal group Cardinals Folly was, for me, an underwhelming and at times unpleasant experience, falling down in so many regards and with sparse redemptive features.
Cardinals Folly released the EP Heretic’s Hangover in 2008, and it is songs from this record, along with 2009’s Orthodox Faces, which account for the majority of material on Strange Conflicts of The Past. A few previously unreleased songs recorded from this period are also present, including a re-recording of a track penned by the group under a different name back in 2006 and a cover of a song by legendary purveyors of german electronic music, Kraftwerk. The divide between the two constituent EPs, and the final collection of unreleased material, is relatively evident on the album thanks to notably improved production for later tracks and, in a rather more upfront manner, having two instrumental intro tracks, in “Intro” and “Opening Ceremony”, with one appearing rather perplexingly as the fourth track on the LP.
After a pretty mundane intro track, overlaying heavily distorted guitar upon what sounds like a sampled recording of a heavy wind, first full-length song “The Right Hand Of Doom” opens up with a powerful grinding bass riff, which is soon meshed with plodding downpicked guitar and occasional atonal hammered leads. The aforementioned bass tone represents by far the strongest element of Cardinals Folly’s overall sound; on every track, across both EPs, the bass comes through clear and driving, always audible but never quite overpowering and Michael Karnstein’s bass playing stands out alone as the pinnacle of the band’s sound. Tracks like “Cardinals Folly”, standing out among others on the LP, owe enormously to Karnstein’s playing – even as the production improves and other instrumentation becomes more developed as the album progresses.
It is unfortunate that, according to the band’s Myspace page, Karnstein is also behind the band’s vocals which are this album’s most striking weakness. Doom metal of such a traditionalist bent isn’t often categorised by its stellar vocal performances but on Strange Conflicts of The Past the vocals are unfortunately too weak for the overall sound of the album to effectively compensate. Karnstein’s delivery comes across as incredibly cheesy and excessive but, most damningly, simply lacks any body or force, making it impossible for the lyrics to sound like they hide any conviction or emotional weight. Though the problem persists throughout the record, they are if anything amplified on the later recorded tracks due to a greater clarity of vocals within the mix, and additional shrieks and wails on tracks like “Blood Axis Raiders” do little to shake the silliness inherent in the delivery.
The vocals confused me at first as their outright silliness, along with the typically hammy lyrics about Satan and the evils of mankind, led me to question just how seriously the band’s music is intended to be assessed. The argument for a certain degree of self-aware parody is reinforced by comical bios and descriptions on the group’s aforementioned Myspace page – but did little to improve my overall listening experience. As I sat back and listened to a high pitched screech of “Satan!” on a track opening with samples of an air raid siren and church bells, it felt like what I was listening to straddled the line between formulaic and functional and “so bad its good”, but never quite achieving either with enough gusto to really stand out as the defining characteristic of the release. As already alluded to, the album does certainly improve as it progresses, with much greater nuance and variety in the guitar and drums, but they never stretch far from the expected, or stand out as in any way developing the sounds so characteristic of the genre.
I’m not going to keep ragging on this record indiscriminately; where I stand is likely pretty clear by now and I don’t write these reviews to mindlessly bash records that don’t appeal to me. This album follows a band’s development into what would become their established style and sound and I think can be viewed differently from a collection of new material as a result. I can entirely see the appeal of Strange Conflicts Of The Past to fans of Cardinals Folly; providing access to the inaccessible annals of their back catalogue is a fantastic way to preserve their recordings and accommodate any die-hard fans’ desires for a complete collection. With this in mind however, reviewing the album entirely based upon my own listening experience, I found desperately little enjoyment across its lengthy run time and feel the only people I could recommend Strange Conflicts of The Past to no doubt already own it.