The Oakland band Cardinal Wyrm offers a dilettante's take on doom. Their new record Cast Away Souls – due this Friday – contains sections and sounds that you would never associate with doom like vocal harmonies. The end result is an engrossing listen that touches on the transience of life and the universal feeling of being stuck with nowhere to go. Decibel is streaming the entire album below; while you listen to it read our Q&A with band founders Pranjal Tiwari (drums and vocals) and Nathan Verrill (guitars) about the challenges they faced in the run-up to the record and the addition of powerhouse Leila Abdul-Rauf (Vastum and Hammers Of Misfortune). You can order Cast Away Souls in digital and physical formats.
When did this album start coming together?
PRANJAL TIWARI: About this time last year. In terms of writing, it was earlier than that. It just takes that long and there were extenuating circumstances. Nate and I wrote the bulk of the material on this record because Leila was involved with a bunch of other bands. We've worked together for a lot of years. I moved here in 2006 and we started jamming in about 2007. We often get together and work on riffs and ideas. We first sort of went through the riff bin and then mixed ideas. Some of the songs were actually based on older ideas.
Were you friends or bandmates first?
PT: We were friends first. But it wasn’t too long before we start playing.
NATHAN VERRILL: Someone said ‘you should talk to him because he is into metal.’ (laughs).
So a mutual friend introduced you?
PT: It was both of our ex-wives. We met at a potluck, funnily enough. Nate was wearing a Candlemass shirt and we started talking about music. We’d meet up now and again and finally decided we should start playing music, not just talking about it. We both had been in bands before but I hadn’t gotten anything together here. So we started playing at Nate’s house along with some electronic drums. We eventually got a space when we thought it could go somewhere. It still wasn’t a band – it was two of us jamming – but it was something.
NV: The first iteration of Cardinal Wyrm was finalized around 2011 or 2012. We have a whole buried album of stuff, although some of it has been repurposed.
PR: The core of the band has always been Nate and me. There have been other people involved in the songwriting but it’s always been us.
What makes it work?
NV: There’s an openness to experimentation. We're always willing to let something fail to find the common wavelength and then shape it into songs.
PT: Nate and I love metal but we like other kinds of music, too, and we are always willing to look at other genres. Neither of us wanted to be like "we are a doom band" or "we are a thrash band." We didn’t want to be a genre band.
You are both multi-instrumentalists, correct?
PT: Yes and no (laughs). Drums are my first instrument and I’ve been working on my vocals in the past few years. I’m not a great strings player. Nate and Leila have conversations and read sheet music and laugh about it. They have pushed me to learn more about music and get better.
NV: I’m not sure how much reading music goes into playing in bands. Most of the time with the writing it is more of a mnemonic process for us.
PT: I will come up with a vocal melody and a basic idea for a riff and we sketch and work around it. With the harmonizing, it definitely helps they we have two people who really know music.
Sabbath is still my reference for doom metal. Now, when someone hands me a doom album I get apprehensive because I think all of the songs will be twenty minutes long.
NV: There are a limited number of colors to the music and it’s all about how people approach it. I hope people will be enthusiastic about the different types of styles and sounds that are represented on this album. For us, it’s not as much about trying something new as this is what comes out.
PT: We want the album to work as a whole – it should be a journey. It should take you different places but on a common river or thread.
Do you feel like records have lost that ability to tell a story?
PT: People are distracted to the point that they often just look for parts that they like within songs.
NV: Even that might be too slow moving. Now, people are taking five seconds or going on Snapchat. There are streaming services where people share five-second music clips. Some people do seek out immersive experiences like long-form video games. I don’t think people have totally lost the ability to stick with something like an album.
I understand that there were some difficult personal circumstances for band members in the lead up to Cast Away Souls?
PT: My grandfather passed away and there have been some friends who passed away from suicide or addiction issues. I feel like I've reached a point in my life where dying is a regular thing. And, I’ve been dealing with my own issues liked depression. When the album was coming together it was a struggle at times to go out the door. The music was an outlet. When you deal with anxiety and depression even leaving the house can be a chore. So I’ve had the depths of those illnesses in the past few years.
NV: In the last three years both of my parents passed and any of the family I had has moved away. There’s also been a transition where we live. I’ve been here my entire life. The wealth of the tech industry has displaced a lot of the older artists and the creative culture. Some things die and some things stay. But everything here feels like it is in transition. Before I felt like I had roots here and now it feels like a bit of a waiting station.
Was music a way of processing these things?
PT: It’s always been there. A lot of this album is about being stuck. It’s about the idea of being in a river and below you are the depths and above you is sky. So you are caught between these places and in the middle is this void.
NV: I think the last album reached out a bit more to a spiritual place. This is just about trying to find a road. If anything has been a religion for me it’s music and the experience of playing it with others. It’s a way of not just finding meaning in life but to interweave meaning into the world around you. It allows you to meet other people where they are and find communion.
Three years ago, my father passed away. He struggled with depression throughout his life. And he took his own life. He had dementia and disengaged with the world around him before making a decision to leave. What I got from him when he was younger was that experience of music. That was how he felt his way through the world and tried to come to terms with those deeper and uglier emotions that can consume you.
What do you hope listeners get out of this record?
PT: There’s a lot of talk about resonance on this album and there is a song called "The Resonant Dead." A lot of the band has been about finding a resonance between different songs. If people can catch that thread and follow it and hear this as a whole that’s what I’d like.
NV: I’d like people to be moved by it and find a relationship with it. I wouldn’t want someone to be indifferent.