posted on 2/2006 By:
It was probably about a year ago when I commented in a review that the Neurosis/Isis-influenced post-hardcore/metal atmospheric sludge movement was growing rather crowded. Since that time I’ve probably heard another dozen albums, most of which were of good-to-excellent quality. This particular sub-genre (remaining steadfastly nameless) continues to produce a satisfying outgrowth, although some acts have done more to add their own stamp to the style. Austin, Texas’ Cardinale are the latest to throw their (cowboy?) hat into the ring, with their debut effort 31:13. Formed in early 2005, well after this style gained momentum, the band does little to move the genre forward, but proves that they’re apt pupils capable of entertaining manifestations of Isis, Pelican, and Cult of Luna affinities.
31:13 consists solely of the title track, and I’ll give you three guesses at the length of the release. It’s tricky to pull off a single composition album, especially for a debut, so one has to admire the band’s ambition. Like the mirror image visual its title suggests, 31:13 offers symmetrical dichotomies of approach consistent with the hallmarks of the genre. The track opens quietly, as a delicate melody dances and swells and the full band then launches directly into a heavier section. 31:13 is a largely instrumental affair, and without actually counting, it seems that there are about six or seven total minutes worth of vocals on the album, all of which occur during the heaviest portions of the music. Between those moments the band focuses on quieter variations achieved with swaying melodies and echoing guitar lines. The song continually ebbs and flows, as circular meditations building to intense, crashing climaxes. Roughly speaking, Cardinale break the song into three sections, or maybe more accurately, offer signposts along the way, and at ten minutes in, the band fall silent after a section of explosive exaltation, with heavy, accented riffing and acidic vocals. They quickly launch back into the same section, but this time work backwards from heavy, to spirally, Pelican-esque melodies before slowing down and eventually devolving into a mass of squealing exhaustion. During the final third of the piece the band creates some nice (and quite welcome) variation, using an acoustic melody to bridge the outro to a sludgy heaviness and the subsequent airy, open section. The intensity soon builds to massive crescendo, and the band launch enthusiastically into their most aggressive, and most interesting, heavy stretch of music. This final third of music also is more successful in layering melodies and tempos.
31:13 does several things well, and is a respectable debut. However, Cardinale do suffer by comparison. There is little to point to as outright error on this album, but at the same time, this young band seems to be missing the something extra that has made many albums in this style so enthralling. There are plenty of totally convincing stretches, but in its entirety the album doesn’t command the kind of attention that makes it impossible to ignore. That might be a risk of a single composition effort, and maybe a collection of songs would be an improvement. The other thing that would serve Cardinale well is to work on including more layers and dynamics. The album has a nice, organic feel, but the trajectory of the songwriting holds very little surprise, and the band stays well within clearly marked boundaries of the song and the style. Still, both of these criticisms are based on what I hear on other albums that push them from good to great, and as is, this album is an enjoyable listen that I'll definitely be revisiting. 31:13, especially for a first effort, is a worthwhile album for genre enthusiasts, and easily does enough to make Cardinale a band to watch. However, at this point they are a couple lengths off the pace, and those less excited about this style should pass up this good album in favor of several recent great ones.
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