The mastermind behind one of the most surprising metal albums of 2007 gives us a followup that's even better.
Of metal's many subgenres, the one that is most consistently showing signs of enormous growth is black metal. While other branches of extreme music such as death, doom, and stoner metal tend to revolve around rigid playing styles and song structures, the past few years have seen a new generation of artists in the black metal realm follow the examples of the sound's more risk-taking leaders (most notably Burzum, Emperor, and Enslaved) and take it into bold new directions to the point where it's become a complete paradigm shift. The rules are constantly being redefined. From America, Wolves in the Throne Room, Cobalt, Agalloch, Lurker of Chalice, Nachtmystium, and Krallice have been among the most notable bands leading the charge in the last few years, while Europe has spawned such acts as Deathspell Omega, Negura Bunget, Drudkh, and Amesoeurs, all of whom have explored sounds outside what used to define black metal and have integrated them in such a way that the fit, no matter how disparate, is seamless.
One influence that keeps creeping into black metal more and more these days is late-1980s goth, shoegaze, and darkwave, as more and more musicians are finding out just how well the tones of such classic albums as Fields of the Nephilim's Nephilim, Swans' Children of God, Slowdive's Souvlaki, and more than any other, the Cure's Disintegration, mesh so well with the equally atmospheric bent of black metal. Operating under the nom de plume Caïna, English singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Curtis-Brignell is one such artist, and in just a couple of years, the 21-year-old has firmly established himself as one of black metal's most prodigious talents. His second album, 2007's thoughtful, bleak, and beautiful Mourner, was one of that year's watershed metal moments. And while barely a year has passed since the release of Mourner, Curtis-Brignell has wasted no time in unleashing his highly anticipated followup. Not surprisingly, it's even better.
If the near-flawless Mourner had a fault, it was that it tended to bounce arbitrarily from genre to genre. While Temporary Antennae is even more ambitious in scope, cohesiveness marks Curtis-Brignell's continuing maturity as a composer. So hypnotic and graceful is this album's metamorphosis, so brilliant is the sequencing, that over the course of 53 minutes we hear a musician start off sounding like Burzum and ending up uncannily resembling Mark Kozelek, and we hardly bat an eye.
The Burzum element is more than evident on "Ten Went Up River", its churning guitars, trancelike pace, and understated synth melody reminiscent of the groundbreaking album Filosofem, but it's not long before the first of many curveballs are tossed our way, as the song's bridge is decidedly more contemplative, acoustic guitars and shuffling snare giving way to dreamy guitar drones. Prefaced by an effectively eerie sample of the haunting rendition of "Willow Waly" from the 1961 film The Innocents, "Willows and Whippoorwills" goes for the densely layered, shoegaze-inspired style of Justin Broadrick's Jesu, but is nowhere near as wistful. Curtis-Brignell's effects-laden vocals are far more despairing. Near the end of the throttling, old-school black metal pace of "Tobacco Beetle" comes another key moment, as the song's Darkthrone-esque direction suddenly gives way to an insistent electronic drum beat, which subsequently leads into the shocking "Larval Door", a pop instrumental ripped from early-'80s Cure. From that point, an already excellent album becomes extraordinary: "…and Ivy Wound Round Him" is a gorgeously grim instrumental in the classic 1980s goth sense, "Them Golds and Brass" a sumptuous trip into progressive rock, and "Petals and Bloodbowls" and "None Shall Die" forays into the more sensitive indie rock of Red House Painters.
All the while, Temporary Antennae maintains its remarkable focus, grounded by Curtis-Brignell's haunting melodies and lyrical prowess. He's one of the most thoughtful and vivid Satanist songwriters in metal, and his philosophical leanings are unmistakable. The subtly poetic title track, the finest example, cleverly lambastes Christianity without reverting to the blunt, bombastic statements of bands like Dimmu Borgir and Gorgoroth. In addition, the album's recurring naturalist theme is unmistakable, as we hear constant references to water, trees, birds, insects, petals, grass, autumn, and pollen -- and even see them on the album's textbook-style cover -- Curtis-Brignell's acknowledgement of the beauty of nature proof that there's a whole lot more to black metal than merely wearing corpsepaint and pouting in your bedroom. There's such vividness and openness to his music, and today's more adventurous black metal as a whole, than there ever was before, and with this album, Caïna is now steadfastly at the forefront of the movement.