Traditional Doom is a strange genre beast. Paying sincere homage to late 60s/early 70s heavy rock, dabbling in pop occultism (itself a throwback to ideas popular around the turn of the 20th Century), and seeing through the lens of post-NWOBHM song structure, it’s a deliberately backwards-looking metal movement. Now well into its third decade of existence, it could be argued that Traditional Doom is downright stubborn in its adherence to its core principles of minor key riffs, clean (and frequently melodramatic) vocals, and a whiff of brimstone. To look for innovation within this genre is to miss the point — it’s a kind of metal comfort food, doing just what it says on the witchy, feedbacky tin when executed properly.
Holocaust of Ecstasy & Freedom, the latest from Finnish trio Cardinals Folly, delivers exactly this kind of experience. The album wears its influences on its (record) sleeve: song titles are drawn from 70s horror films and Satanic imagery, and the cover illustration of the eroticized aftermath of a witch inquisition leaves little to the imagination. This is not an album for anyone seeking nuance or intellectual stimulation, but even in the morass of 2016 navel-gazing, there remains a place for grotty, fuzzed-out, satisfying genre goodness. To make a particularly apt comparison, just because today’s horror films employ digital trickery and postmodern plot devices doesn’t make munching popcorn to Hammer’s Technicolor-kinky Karnstein trilogy of vampire movies any less satisfying.
Several ears likely perked up at the mention of the band’s home turf of Finland, thanks to the fact that this country spawned legendary Trad-Doomers Reverend Bizarre. Cardinals Folly shares many of the characteristics that defined Reverend Bizarre: similar guitar tone, similar obsession with cinematic gothickry, similar affected vocal stylings that evoke an autodidact’s obsession with opera. Unlike that band, Cardinals Folly keeps their songs far under the 15-minute-plus run time often favored by Reverend Bizarre. In fact, no track on Holocaust of Ecstasy & Freedom outstays its welcome, with each one delivering an up-tempo (for doom) composition that encourages appreciative head-nodding. The title song serves up a particularly tasty central riff to complement its Electric Wizard-esque storyline of devil worship and misanthropy. The album is structured in such a way that its dirgiest moments occur at its center, bookended by more rock-oriented tracks, creating a natural flow from the sinister opening bassline of “The Poison Test” to the feedback-drenched crescendo of “La Papesse.”
If a criticism can be offered of this album — as distinguished from the usual criticisms of samey-ness and lack of surprise that are levied at the subgenre as a whole — it’s that it never quite goes over the top in the way that the best doom records do. There’s no harrowing wall of distortion moment and it would be great if there were a true anthem to latch onto. Also, while the band is capable of wit as is evidenced by their cover of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” featured on a prior release, they don’t seem to be pursuing tongue-in-cheek camp that might benefit their lyrical subject matter and add a layer of interest to their work.
Holocaust of Ecstasy & Freedom is a thoroughly well-executed, enjoyable trip through the murky woods that devotees to the sound will dig, and marks a step towards sophistication (both in songwriting and in engineering) over its predecessor, 2014’s Our Cult Continues. This latest offering from Cardinals Folly provides plentiful sustenance for passionate devotees of occult gloom to enjoy. Lie back, pass the chalice (and the joint), and take a moment to appreciate this slice of metallic nostalgia.
– Tenebrous Kate