Tuesday, August 16, 2011

caïna - hands that pluck

Hands That Pluck
2011 / Profound Lore

No, not road therapy, just a regular bit of writing about an album I've been spinning quite a bit recently. I've had it in my car when I first received it, but it's just not appropriate. Too immersing, too jarring too, for a continued listening while driving. Had I not decided to listen to it elsewhere, you might have read in the news about a dramatic pile up in the Lisboa area caused by a driver who suddenly forgot he was in the middle of traffic due to the black abyss of dying stars he hallucinated during his journey, or a car that veered off the bridge onto the sea, too consumed by the cosmic infinity in his mind's eye to keep a straight line.

Be forewarned - 'Hands That Pluck' demands a few things, so make sure you check all the boxes before you dive in. Headphones. Patience. A few late nights. Mental disposition for music that doesn't sit still and that won't fit any of your established notions about any genre that it touches, and that's a whole bunch. That sort of thing. The music of Andy Curtis-Brignell through the Caïna entity has never been easy, so it's not a huge surprise this album is complex to tackle. If you listen to the full-lengths in succession, 2006's embryonic 'Some People Fall', 2007's breakthrough, funereal 'Mourner' and 2008's kaleidoscopic 'Temporary Antennae', it does feel like the genetically altered caterpillar turning into a beautifully grotesque butterfly, such is the widening of scope and breadth that occurs from album to album. But this is the biggest leap so far. Maybe because it is, tragically, the very last release of Caïna, maybe also encouraged by the fact that, as Andy revealed to me a few months ago on a little interview for Terrorizer magazine, a technical problem cost him all the lyrics and music he already had written for this album at the time, but the result is staggeringly opaque.

The first listen of this album feels like someone put in a mixtape by mistake. Although vaguely rooted within black metal, as usual, it's still a genre rollercoaster that seems to zoom off to randomly distant parts of the extreme music universe at will, a feeling augmented by the presence of several illustrious guests - the unique talents of N. Imperial of Krieg, Chris Ross of Revenge and Rennie Resmini of Starkweather all chip in to ensure the passage of Caïna to the afterlife of awesome bands is one to remember. And it is. After those traumatic first listens, the initially ever-expanding 'Hands That Pluck' universe seems to contract (especially if you didn't forget your headphones), and the missing dots magically appear one by one for you to connect. It still is wildly diverse, but the seven songs and two creepy interludes turn into stars of the same constellation - millions of miles away from each other, yet irrevocably connected.

Just as the subject matter is more abstract than usual, Andy's habitual Crowleyism, Satanism and critique of theistic religion getting more ethereal in lyrics that are extremely evoking and warrant a read even without the music playing, the music itself is not easy to describe either, not without a lame track-by-track sort of thing, and even so that doesn't do it any justice. But what the hell, here goes:

It starts out pretty roughly, slapping you around with the Darkthrone-ish (circa 'The Cult Is Alive', on top of it) 'Profane Inheritors' and the ten minutes of the N. Imperial-led lo-fi black metal that turns into abstract stargazing halfway of 'Murrain'. A perfect opening pair to scare off eventual hipsters looking for the next metal band to appropriate. Yet, it does contain a glimpse of what's to come, as 'Murrain' does morph into an etheral stargazing session halfway through, punctuated by N. Imperial's gruff growls, like an alien chewing through your intestines while you stare at the Earth from space in eternal tranquillity. Or something. After the eerie speech of the title-track interlude, it's straight into 'The Sea Of Grief Has No Shores', a title that's the perfect representation of Curtis-Brignell's poetic lyricism that's been present throughout his Caïna career, and most touchingly so during this album, and a track that exhales a ghostly, skeletal post-rock ambiance, as if all members Mono had been possessed by Satan right before the recording of 'One More Step And You Die'. Just when it's lullabying you into oblivion, it's up to Rennie Resmini to shake you from your slumber with a typically disconcerting performance on 'Callus And Cicatrix'. The man has one of the most distinctive, versatile and downright soul-wrenching voices in the entire history of extreme music, and he elevates the labyrinthine necro-prog song into a haunting, poignant piece that serves as the record's pivotal point - from then on, it seems like 'Hands That Pluck' initiates a jagged build-up that lasts until the final climax. 'Somnium Ignis' fuses Andy's deep and animalistic roar and harsh atmosphere with surprisingly luminous guitar leads, while 'I Know Thee Of Old' employs Revenge's Chris Ross in an unimaginable context, a fuzzy rockout that builds and builds after a dreamy start. It's like letting loose an enraged bull in your little sister's room, except here it works against all notions of common sense. The last song, 'Ninety-Three', might just be the best thing Caïna has ever done, closing out a relatively short but incredibly creative career with a quiet explosion of trippy rock, 70s leads and psyched out moods, like opening a window after years of darkness.

The album comes with a bonus CD called 'Old Songs New Chords', featuring reworkings of old Caïna songs and a frankly spectacular cover of Nico's 'Roses In The Snow', but you don't need me to go into that. You'll do it yourself, as a sort of wake, after you have exhausted 'Hands That Pluck' and yourself, taken a very deep and very long breath, and realized that there will be no more light from where that now-dead star is. The last time I used a dead star as a metaphor was on my Terrorizer review of Horseback's equally transcendental 'The Invisible Mountain', so you know I save those for special occasions.

Do return to us eventually, Andy.

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