Even Satanists have soul. Mourner is a spellbinding, highly eclectic 67 minutes of music that never wears out its welcome.
When it comes to lyrics in metal music, few bands have a grasp on subtlety, but then again, it's a genre of musical extremes, so it's no surprise that the lyrical content should follow suit. Consequently, the various forms of metal lyrics shoot off in wildly differing directions: we get the blunt violence of death metal, the psychedelia of stoner rock, the epic themes of power and fantasy metal, the funereal incantations of doom metal, the clever yet perpetually indecipherable lyrics of grindcore, and of course, the overt Satanist/anti-Christian sentiment of black metal. While the words aptly mirror the visceral power felt in the music, moments of real nuance, eloquence, and poeticism seem to be getting more and more rare these days, especially when it comes to the darker themes of black metal.
Selling Satan is harder than it seems. Any corpsepainted kvltist can spout off about the power of his beelzebuddy, and many have over the years, but save for the stirring imagery of Emperor lyricist Ihsahn, the unsettling seriousness of King Diamond, or the harrowing bleakness of Watain, most bands tend to take a much more heavy-handed approach, ending up sounding too overtly shocking, campy (Dimmu Borgir, for example), or even worse, just plain boring. Most of us aren't Satanists, but it would be refreshing now and then to hear from a black metal band that has the ability to convey its lyrics with sincerity and articulacy. It's the same thing listening to a Christian metalcore band; we're not looking to be converted, all we want is a little passion.
Mercifully (mercyfully?), Andrew Curtis-Brignell is one such fella. A self-described practicing Satanist of the LaVey school, as well as a devotee of Aleister Crowley's Thelemic tradition, his one-man project Caïna approaches Satanic theology with introspection, reflection, and a knack for stunning imagery. Coupled with the fact that the 20 year-old Hampshire, England resident crafts his own unique brand of black metal from a far broader musical palette than the majority of his peers have the guts to do, it makes for a stunning combination on his second album, Mourner. Drawing from everything from post rock, to shoegaze, to folk, to noise rock, to ambient drone, to orch pop, to classic black metal, it's a spellbinding, highly eclectic 67 minutes of music that never wears out its welcome, and most impressively, sounds cohesive throughout. But while the music is ominously entrancing, Curtis-Brignell's indelible images move in to deliver the knockout punch, and when that happens, that's when we know we have one of the year's finest albums on our hands.
"I know why birds alight from cables with no-one beneath," Curtis-Brignell croons on the haunting epic "Hideous Gnosis", "Who's on the side of the angels / Who's on the side of Satan?" The song switches genres on us to the point where we're blindsided, transforming from a sparse emotional outpouring in the vein of Xiu Xiu's talented Jamie Stewart to distorted screams and guitars that echo the lo-fi black metal strains of Leviathan, E-bowed guitar melodies acting as a reassuring calm in the sonic storm as the song dissolves into a mass of white noise. "Morgawr" takes a much more minimal approach, the lyrics hinting at something much deeper than the usual fantasy themes as Curtis-Brignell intones, shockingly similar to Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, "Break yourself on rocks to believe in something more". Rarely does mouth harp sound as evil as it does on "Constantine the Blind", punctuating Curtis-Brignell's acoustic guitar and spoken word delivery, and his falsetto harmonies bring a ghostly, Antony Hegarty-like quality to the a cappella intro of the instrumental "I Reeled in Heaven". Divided into three movements, "Requiem for Shattered Timbers" hints at conventionality, with its ferocious, rapid-fire black metal approach, but the nine-and-a-half-minute track is elevated by the pointed lyrics: "What we thought was evolution... nothing but an arc of piss, and old man under a bridge".
Several tracks on Mourner hint that Caïna is ready to abandon the typical metal constraints for good, and it's there where we hear the true potential of the young Curtis-Brignell. "Permaneo Carmen" and "The Sleep of Reason" both echo the seismic beauty of Justin Broadrick's Jesu, the emotional vocal refrains sounding as hypnotic as the densely layered guitars. Most arresting, though, is the surprisingly upbeat-sounding "Wormwood Over Albion", which sounds inspired by Nick Drake, My Bloody Valentine, and Echo and the Bunnymen all at once, as he concludes the album on an enigmatic note ("The wind shrieks hard against the stone with a loneliness of feeling I have never known"), proving that in a genre often preoccupied with looking and sounding evil, it's music that is still capable of genuine soul.