In addition to penning a monthly black metal column for Thrash Hits, writing reviews and features for Metal Hammer, promoting extreme metal shows, oh, and having a day job, Cheryl Carter also manages one-man black metal act Caïna. With the sixth full-length Caïna album, Setter of Unseen Snares, being released this month, we figured now was as good a time as any to make use of our publisher’s leverage to get Cheryl to give us the inside scoop on the story of what looks likely to be one of 2015’s most interesting extreme records. Take it away, Cheryl…
The development of a band and of a record is often keeping closely guarded, yet sometimes you are afforded a glance into the inner workings of a mind that creates some of your favourite music and occasionally you are privy to more than you ever wanted to know.
With Caïna, that privilege has been in place for well over a year and as such I have heard the slow progression of Setter of Unseen Snares from instrumental takes to rough vocal versions to a pre-mastered form that blew me away and finally to Caïna’s most in depth and eloquent album to date. Much has changed in the ten years since Andrew Curtis-Brignell formed the band way back in 2004. This month’s black metal column is slightly different, for reasons explained above, so let’s take a moment to get to the heart of the band and hear from ACB himself.
1) “It started just after I turned 18 in 2004, mostly because I’d just moved away from home, everyone I knew, and was desperate to have something to occupy myself. Also I guess it was a way of reinventing myself after leaving my home town – I’d always been in bands but only ever as a drummer. I’d gotten into black metal pretty heavily a couple of years before, around 2002. I just had this realisation at that time that most of my favourite BM bands, like Burzum, Krieg, Judas Iscariot, were all basically one guy. That led to me thinking about the possibility of doing something like that myself, even though I only bought my first cheap guitar just before I left home and had no fucking idea how to play it. At the same time, I was consuming a huge amount of other types of music, so as the idea moved forward I determined to try and never do the same thing twice, to never take a style or genre off the table just because those were the rules. I’m still trying to keep to that core idea.”
It’s that core idea that sees Setter of Unseen Snares never take the easy route out. Black metal is the aesthetic but punk, hardcore, dark ambient and goth all make a welcome and coherent appearance throughout and with Caïna always changing and shifting the soundscapes of each record, it’s a route that stays true to the movement of the band. 2008’s Temporary Antennae sat on the post-rock side of the scale while 2013s abstract Litanies of Abjection laid bare its Nick Cave/Scott Walker worship for all to hear. Setter of Unseen Snares takes everything that has come before and smoothed out the cracks in order to present a much more rounded view of those rule-breaking goals.
2) “I was in a really terrible place in my life with my health, my relationship, my money and my job, and to be honest although I didn’t think it at the time, I now feel that killing the band was a cry for help. It wasn’t really a successful one, as everyone around me at that time just let me do it. You find out how real somebody is in that sort of situation though, so it was helpful in that sense. The self-doubt and pressure I had on me at that point led me to believe that I didn’t have anything further to offer, musically or otherwise.”
In 2011, Caïna called it quits. There was a lot of talk about how the record that came out that year – The Hands That Pluck – would be the final Caïna album, the band was done and that Andy was out of the music game. I remember those days and speaking to Andy about in depth for an interview and he was adamant, albeit sad, that Caïna would be no more.
3) “I needed to. Although in all probability it wasn’t the main factor, I think not making music made me sicker. I’d basically just severed my only real outlet. Litanies of Abjection forced its way out of me like vomit, and it’s a weird little record, clearly the product of lots of ideas being cooped up for too long. I think once I got that first burst out of the way I was able to take a more measured approach which I think has only made the music stronger.”
2013 saw a return to Caïna and as much as anyone, Andy was probably the most surprised about it. Litanies of Abjection is a weird record – it dances from electronic impulses to languid soul to spoken word abstractions and back again. It’s very odd but it’s a record that needed to be made in order for Andy to move the project forward and allow him to breathe again. Those moments of utter chaos found their way into Earth Inferno (a short EP featuring cuts from 2011 and earlier) and the new songs that appeared on a split with Esoteric Youth ensured that Caïna regained a foothold on the UK underground. With a ten year career, it’s a wonder that Caïna hasn’t gone further but for Andy playing live was always difficult (and it still is) due to nerves and anxiety which meant that the name was only ever heard in passing and gained traction through word of mouth and internet supporters. He’s not mad about that though; the slow burn of the Caïna name has ensured that now, more than ever, he is far more confident in the direction of the band.
4) “I don’t have any pre-conceived goals really – things have been so crazy over the last year or so that I feel like trying to plan too hard would be self-defeating. With Laurence [Taylor, of Cold Fell and also COF Records] coming on board, the shows we’ve been playing and the reception to the new material, it’s probably been the best twelve months in the ten year history of the project. Also probably the most gruelling in terms of physical and logistical effort. I’ve been enjoying the live aspect of the band much more since coming back after my hiatus, so that’s my main focus for the time being.”
2014 saw Caïna reach that ten year goal and a celebration of that anniversary was put in place. London’s best small venue, The Black Heart, hosted a pretty special show in which Caïna finally played a set as a full, live band. Members of Esoteric Youth and Old Skin completed the line-up and while this iteration of the band may never play together again, the addition of Laurence on vocals means that the band has much more scope to play live in the future. Setter of Unseen Snares is the beginning of the next chapter and while it’s very much a cliché, it’s also the truth.
Caïna is playing an album-release show on 28 February in London – check out the Facebook event page for more details.
5) “I was interviewed about my new album and was asked some questions about politics, my personal beliefs and how the metal subculture treats women and the LGBT community. Having a totally inclusive policy upset a few anti-feminist and right wing metallers. It led to a guy I used to be pretty friendly with from a prominent USBM band facebook a bunch of unprovoked hate-speech filled messages at the interviewer and I. Some of his equally enlightened friends and fans did the same and it sort of spiraled. He was fired from his band and the furore over this dovetailed with ‘#metalgate’.”
There’s not too much else to say about this and as the people involved are friends, I also don’t want to cause any more trouble for anyone. Because it was a shitty week and a situation that got way out of hand and didn’t need to even get to that point in the first place. The person in question seems to have backed off now, perhaps as a result of his firing from a darn good band, and hopefully he won’t air his ugly views at the band, the interviewer or anyone underserving of such hate. Ugh. Really, metal people, we are all outsiders and as such should embrace the differences within us all. We’ve all have terrible things happen and we’ve all had to deal with tough situations. How about we support instead of exclude? And don’t even try that “black metal is exclusive” bullshit. It’s not 1993 in Norway anymore.
6) “Setter of Unseen Snares tells the story of the last family on earth, desperately trying to stay alive at any cost in the face of the apocalypse – regardless of what that really means. It’s told in the abstract though, so you have to work a little bit to put the pieces together. Musically it’s my attempt to pay tribute to my punk and hardcore background whilst also trying to maintain the black metal trajectory I’ve been on in the last eighteen months. This record had the absolute shortest gestation period of all the albums I’ve made. I really set out with the aim of making something really ruthless, angry and streamlined – I spent as much time cutting as I did writing, and I think if nothing else I achieved that. Aside from a difference in approach, I feel like having Joe (Clayton) on board handling a lot of the production duties has really given it a wider scope. Taken with the guests on the album and how much I’ve enjoyed playing live with other musicians recently, I guess sometimes it’s cool not to do everything on your own.”
Setter of Unseen Snares takes Caïna to the absolute next level and with Andy relinquishing a little control, the album itself sounds bigger, heavier, more expansive and put together than anything we have heard previously. The introductory track utilises True Detective’s Rust Cohle’s bleak outlook on life in order to set the scene for the album and along with steady guitar feedback and monastic chants, the darkness held at the core of the record seeps through. ‘I Am the Flail of the Lord’ bursts into fiery life and begins the journey to the ultimate end. The title track features Old Skin’s Michael Riberio on vocals, and his deep, bellowed style fits into the dissonant progression of the guitar beneath with the short, punchy song running full speed towards its end without any hint of fear or apprehension. The intensity of the song is forced through the rage that pours from the words spat out and plays into the hands of ‘Vowbound’ and its outrageously memorable pace.
‘Orphan’ completes the album and while the epic, gothic majesty of the final track is a huge departure in sound for Caïna, it’s inclusion feels true and necessary. Hateful Abandon’s Vice Martyr lends his gorgeous, soulful voice to the initial stages of the song and as it progresses towards the inevitable end, Curtis-Brignell allows the humanity of the situation to unfold. The fear, the knowledge, the decisions – they all play their part and ‘Orphan’ leads the way towards a climactic finale in slow stages of sorrow and melancholy, as well a furious bursts of sound that evoke that desperation and eventual acceptance that must come when no other outcome is possible.
Caïna’s new album, Setter of Unseen Snares, is out now on COF Records/Broken Limbs Recordings/Skin & Bones Records – go pick up a copy. There’s an album launch show too – check out the Facebook event for more details.