My knowledge of Cardinals Folly is practically identical to my knowledge of their country of origin, Finland. I know nothing about it, but at the same time, I think I do. I assume it’s a Northern European country, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of snow, and I just picture a lot of rosy-cheeked people with beautiful, long blonde hair…or maybe that’s Sweden? Likewise, I assumed just from looking at Cardinals Folly’s artwork and album/track titles that they’re a heavy stoner/doom metal band with an inclination towards retro-inspired, sonic riffery a la The Sword and Orange Goblin. Less than a minute into the opening track of Deranged Pagan Sons, I was able to clench my fist in a symbol of victorious success, for my assumptions were completely correct. But pull the reigns on your Finnish elk, folks, because this does not mean that Cardinals Folly get to join the ranks of said stoner/doom greats just yet.
To their credit, Cardinals Folly have a lot going for them right out of the gates. Album opener “Worship Her Fire” began with a doomy, mid-tempo guitar warm up and deep, pounding drums before jumping into a more speedy riff section. Vocalist Mikko Kaarianen soon entered with icy cleans soaring over the instrumentation, and just when I thought that this would be the solitary means of vocal delivery, Mikko busted out some growls that put a big cherry on top. I really appreciate these harsher vocals mixed in with the cleans, as they give Cardinals Folly a unique point of differentiation from competing bands such as The Sword. It seemed everything was going swimmingly so far.
And then the album was over, and I realized that I hadn’t been paying attention to a good 3/4ths of it. I had to stop and collect my thoughts. Why didn’t I remember any the songs past the first 2 or 3? After a couple more strained listens, I came to an understanding. My disinterest was due largely to the fact that this is essentially the same song over and over again. Sure, there is great tempo variety within each song, and when they rev themselves up to a speedy gallup, it’s pretty darn badass. I’m always an advocate for such things, and that’s definitely the name of the game here. But one must always be wary of becoming too predictable with their formula, no matter how great the formula is. Everything in moderation, as the old adage goes.
Cardinals Folly’s formula goes as follows: start slow, get fast, end lyrical lines with growls, repeat. This is all well and good for a couple songs, but again, predictability starts to take hold. Nothing here is necessarily bad in and of itself, but too much of it begins to grate. Some of the more promising tracks such as “The Island Where Time Stands Still” and “Three-Bladed Doom” eventually fall victim to this, and even the melodies and vocal rhythms are incredibly repetitive after closer examination. I won’t lie, there are no shortage of killer riffs or stand-out hooks, but they just become afterthoughts buried in a muddled lack of attention.
On the surface, there is very little to dislike with Deranged Pagan Sons. The production is good, the guitar tones are pleasing, the riffs are catchy and the vocals are doomy. But here lies the issue; it’s all on the surface. If you take a paint scraper to it, it’ll easily flake up to reveal a mixed bag. I would say that this latest offering from Cardinals Folly is worth a listen just so that you can pick the two or three songs that you like the most and add them to your “desert warriors of heavy metal” playlist. Taking in the entire album as a whole, on the other hand, is a bit of a chore.