Reading David Gordon White's book on medieval South Asian Tantra and listening to Caïna's brilliant Post Black Metal album Temporary Antennae, images from the two works merged in my mind.
White's book describes medieval South Asian Tantra as a cult in which fierce bird-headed, flying goddesses - Yoginis - were placated by offerings of raw meat, alcohol and semen. Caïna's album presents us with a vision of England's hidden reverse in which the pastoral landscape is crawling with all sorts of beetles and larvae.
This imagery spilled over and into each other to produce a Dream Land in which Black Metal fans sacrifice raw meat, vodka, pills and semen to many-armed, insect-headed goddesses residing in picturesque English village cemeteries; a Dream Land in which ornate Gothic Revival architecture is merged with that of medieval Indian temples, decorated with sculptures of Christian saints in all conceivable states of undress and sexual positions; a Dream Land in which corpse-painted Siddhas fly over Ben Nevis, the Venomous Mountain; a Dream Land in which M.R. James leads a nocturnal double life as an immortal practitioner of left-handed Tantra in dark ant-nest-like catacombs beneath King's College, Cambridge; a Dream Land in which hosts of child-eating female deities, whose hateful cries sound like a downtuned cold black insect buzz, haunt Tintern Abbey; a Dream Land in which Satan's claw is the mandible of a huge stag beetle; a Dream Land in which not Euronymous but Jhonn Balance was Mayhem's sacrificial King.
From the larva of the short, Coil-like opening number, 'Temporary Antennae' pupates in a chrysalis of Lurker of Chalice-influenced Black Metal before emerging metamorphized into a many-colored yet sinister butterfly.
The opening track, 'Manuscript Found In Unmarked Grave, 1919', starts with echoing bells and percussion lost in a roaring drone and ends with a distorted voice (reminiscent of Jhonn Balance's voice on Musick To Play In The Dark 2) reading part of a poem. The poem is 'Grief', and it can be found at the end of the 1908 novel The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson, a British writer of fantastic stories who was killed by an artillery shell at Ypres in April 1918.
When the voice has died down, a fierce, primitive-sounding guitar erupts: 'Ten Went Upriver'. This track shows clearly the influence on Caina of the work of US Black Metal musician Wrest (Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice): the rawness bleeds into blackened sheets of shoegazer sound, melancholic ambient keyboards, and acoustic guitar.
With an intro that brings to mind Justin Broadrick's Jesu, the slowpaced, despondent, distorted psychedelia of the album's third track owes more to the Doom Metal of bands such as Warhorse than to Burzum and his kindred. The song ends with a long sample of the song “Willow Waly” sung by Isla Cameron imitating the voice of an eleven year old girl in Jack Clayton's classic 1961 film The Innocents.
The eerie faux-folk song from the film heralds a turn towards a more dreamy, folk-like music, influenced by Current 93, Death in June, early (1980–1982) The Cure and later (1991-1992) Swans. In these songs Caina proves that is he capable of more than merely following Wrest's 'freezing moon', creating a sound that departs even further than Lurker of Chalice from the orthodoxies of Black Metal. Musically, Lurker of Chalice relates to Caïna as Bauhaus relates to The Cure. But the meaning of the structural relationship extend beyond the strictly musical sphere. Where Wrest revels in extravagant nocturnal theatricality, artifice and aesthetics, Caïna chooses autobiography, personal experience, sensitivity, authenticity. Where Wrest attempts to overstrain the listener by means of a violent gloominess and unresolvable musical matter, Caïna is unafraid of creating harmonies. While Wrest runs the risk of becoming Camp, Caïna risks becoming sentimental to the point of weepiness. Though from a theoretical viewpoint I do not privilege the one approach above the other, Caïna's is more audacious in the context of Black Metal culture.
All in all I find Caïna's Temporary Antennae one of the most interesting - and perhaps the most interesting - Black Metal albums I bought in 2008. I've played it so often these last few weeks that if I'd bought it on vinyl the record would have turned a very pale shade of grey by now. Highly recommended!
Willows And Whippoorwills
Here is an excellent interview with Andrew Curtis-Brignell, the man behind Caïna.