Members: Andy Curtis-Brignell
From: Brighton, U.K.
Sounds like: Experimental, atmospheric black metal
For fans of: Leviathan, Deathspell Omega, Red Sparowes
Caïna’s story began back in 2005, in a Sussex bedroom occupied by its creator and sole driving force, multi-instrumentalist Andy Curtis-Brignell. The U.K.’s black metal output has been spotty at best, and Caïna has always existed in a strange middle void between the histrionic symphonics of the mainstream and the subterranean scrapings of the underground. From the project’s raw beginnings to its current state of refined, yet outré aggression, Curtis-Brignell has pushed himself to explore new influences and get far weirder than black metal’s traditional confines usually allow. A series of self-released demos, EPs, and Caïna’s debut record resulted in a long stint on Profound Lore Records, followed by three lauded full-lengths.
Despite its affiliations with a genre that embraces a highly antisocial philosophy, Caïna is most compelling when Curtis-Brignell lets his guard down, revealing his humanity and vulnerability. Whether he’s bellowing out demonic roars over furious tremolo or patiently coaxing forth gentle melodies from muted strings, the end result is a varied and dynamic document of grief, rage and anguish.
In anticipation of Setter of Unseen Snares, due for release in late January, Curtis-Brignell spoke with Wondering Sound about mental health, scene politics and the concept behind his new album.
1. Curtis-Brignell has been clinically depressed for as long as he can remember.
I’ve pretty much always treated my music as an extension of myself. Although I use the Caïna name and occasionally work with other people, there’s really not a lot of separation there. I write about things I care about and am interested in, things I’m passionate about, and it just didn’t make sense for me to create some elaborate, aloof persona to go along with it. I’ve been clinically depressed/bipolar/whatever for my entire adult life; it’s not something that’s going to go away. I guess there’s lots of people who feel like that and don’t spill their guts as openly as I do, so I think part of it is how I got any sort of “career” in the first place — since I started doing this 10 years ago I’ve only ever worked with bands or labels by making personal connections and relationships through letters and email correspondence, and I’ve always had a similar relationship with the people who listen to my music.
When you’re pretty much the only one in charge of a minor-league band, you notice the same people buying stuff from you, sharing things, commenting, helping you out, year after year. I guess I feel I owe it to be honest to these people about where my music comes from, and in more practical terms why there’s a delay on something if I’ve been having a particularly bad time, for example. Sometimes people write to me about their problems because they think I can relate, and empathize, which I absolutely can, but it can be overwhelming. I mean, it’s amazing if someone chooses to open up to me but I’m normally just terrified of making things worse. I barely qualify as a musician and even less as a psychologist.
2. It’s impossible for him to truly reject humanity.
It’s funny, but I’ve never considered myself a particularly political person, at least not until quite recently. It’s just never, ever made sense to me to judge other human beings on anything as arbitrary as race, gender, sexuality or physical ability. Or to exploit animals, or for some people to have so much when others have so little. I have huge problems with humankind’s existence on this planet — we’re a colony of grotesque, toxin-spewing parasites — but that’s a philosophical perspective, and one that’s impossible to truly embrace without being a fucking sociopath. As forcefully as traditional black metal clichés would push the idea, it’s impossible to “reject humanity” while still being a human being. We can despair, we can want something better, but we’re here and we may as well do our best not to be shitty to one another and the world around us while we are. Some black metal people don’t want to admit they’re people — which is kind of hilarious.
Extreme metal is often more about “power” of various abstract kinds than it is about basic human emotions, so I suppose it’s natural for it to attract people who feel powerless and need to lash out at people who are different to them. The source of prejudice is almost always some sort of personal weakness, and I think we both know enough metalheads to connect the dots there. I get called out sometimes for listening to music made by people who don’t share my beliefs. But part of my whole shtick is that people should be absolutely free to think and express themselves. Sometimes people can create great art out of terrible motivations, and I don’t feel like I should ignore that in order to maintain some imaginary moral high ground. I’m not interested in telling people how they should think. I appreciate that I’m only able to hold that opinion due to my own privileges — as a white, heterosexual male I’m not the one under attack. Ultimately I don’t think ignoring these things does anything, whereas engaging with it in appropriate ways actually might.
3. He doesn’t give a shit whether you like that he’s a feminist.
While in the last few years it seems that it’s less OK to base your band’s whole aesthetic on it, metal is definitely a culture where generally it’s still OK to both exclude and casually objectify women. It seems to be acceptable to be a woman in metal within certain narrow parameters — basically if you’re attractive and nonthreatening. I find it unbelievable that a couple of major magazines and websites still have issues dedicated to the “hottest girls in metal.” How fucked up is that? Eleven months a year, cover to cover we’ll push a bunch of identical-looking white bros throwing their bullshit shapes and spouting the same quasi-edgy satanic motivational speaker bullshit, but hey, you ladies, you can have that one month where we’ll make jokes about that girl from Kylesa‘s tits and ask her if it’s “tough on tour” because she has a vagina. Fuck off. Don’t be too attractive or demonstrably sexual, though, heavens no — look at what happened to that Oath band. I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did after seeing some of the shit the internet threw at them. Look at the reception of that Myrkur record — oh, it just had to have been ghostwritten by her boyfriend, according to some people. Are you shitting me? Is metal culture that terrified of women nowadays that it robs them of any agency whatsoever?
I once got described as “girlfriend metal,” which I think was supposed to be a derogatory statement. I liked it — what the hell is wrong with appealing to both men and women? What the hell is so great about guys that I’m supposed to gear everything toward them? I don’t really get that as an insult, honestly. I’m absolutely, 100 percent a feminist and I genuinely don’t give a shit whether you like it or not really. We’re going to win, deal with it.
4. The new record was somewhat inspired by his big brother’s old hardcore tapes.
I come from a punk and hardcore background originally — my older brother, who has been probably the biggest musical influence in my life, was in pop-punk bands in the late ’90s and early 2000s and the first bands I was ever in from age 12 onward were melodic hardcore groups covering a bunch of Revelation and No Idea bands with a few originals. There have been a lot of hardcore bands in the last couple of years who have taken an increasing influence from black metal, and I thought it would be interesting to see what I could come up with approaching it from an opposite perspective. I was fueled by a nice mixture of nostalgia and curiosity, so I banged out what I consider to be sonically four-fifths a hardcore record in less than three months. It was written very consciously for the LP format, and side A is pretty much straight-up blackened hardcore with some of my usual weird shit thrown in. For that I pretty much just got fucked up and listened to a lot of Cro-Mags for a week straight. The second side is more mature, one long epic thing. I had to sober up a little to write that one.
5. Setter of Unseen Snares is the first Caïna release to feature an outside producer.
I had some awesome guests on my fourth album, Hands That Pluck, but that album was very much still under my control. With this one, aside from having my friends Vice Martyr from Hateful Abandon, Mike [Ribiero] from Old Skin and Laurence [Taylor] from Cold Fell/Church of Fuck Records singing on the album, I handed over probably about 70 percent of the production reins to Joe Clayton (Old Skin, NO Studio). I was extremely impressed by the production work he’s done, and thought it be cool to finally get someone else’s perspective on how I should do things, after a decade of total self-governance. It was stressful, exhausting and not something I will be opting to do all the time from here onward, but I think I made something pretty good. It’s very different from my previous albums, mostly due to the fact that it just sounds fucking huge, way beyond my own technical capabilities, so I think it’s been worth it. The record itself is a concept album, telling the story of the last family on earth and their attempts to escape a giant asteroid. It’s a simple story of apocalypse, child sacrifice and the self-inflicted downfall of the last ever patriarch. The guest singers helped me tell the album’s story but Joe and Brad Boatright, who mastered the album, helped me put the real meat on the bones.
6. The future of Caïna will be determined by this album.
To be honest, the last year has been very hard personally and in terms of the “band.” When I moved to Manchester a couple of years ago it was cool to suddenly be thrown into a “scene,” but I don’t know if I’m cut out for it. I’m actually currently planning a long-term return to my roots in the countryside where I can focus on family and put my energies into something that’s not as associated with pain as Caïna is to me. I’ve been quite nomadic in the last decade, but thanks to the best woman in the universe and some good friends I finally feel like I’m ready finally to start planting some roots. A lot hinges on what people think of this record, whether it’s a success for me artistically, not just financially. I’m at a real crossroads in my life and one road could mean that very little is next, at least for Caïna. On the other hand, it might invigorate me and inspire another album. Right now, I don’t know, and that’s OK.