Caïna: Temporary Antennae

The mastermind behind one of the most surprising metal albums of 2007 gives us a followup that's even better.


Temporary Antennae

Label: Profound Lore
US Release Date: 2008-09-30
UK Release Date: 2008-09-29

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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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