Corrupting the Wake: 15 Years of Caïna’s “Some People Fall” (Interview)
Post-rock and black metal's mid-2000s collision was an unexpected one, but the genre fusion has become so ubiquitous now, a decade and a half later, that it has become commonplace, especially through breakthrough artists like Deafheaven. But it wasn't always this way, and whispers across forums and word of mouth back in 2005 spoke of an English artist who was somehow fusing Bark Psychosis' genre experiments with raw black metal tonality and anger. Though initially a raw black metal artist (though they would argue that they've been making something somewhat post-rock all along) Caïna's (rhymes with hyena -- ka-ee-nah) Andy Curtis-Brignell was and continues to be a fearless genre innovator in the ever-changing black metal landscape.
Tomorrow marks the official 15th anniversary of Caïna's debut full-length album, Some People Fall, which is one of the few times I, a young person, feel dated. Some People Fall was released on the now-defunct God Is Myth label, but, to admit a shortcoming of this article's timing and research, Curtis-Brignell actually started selling his copies the month before, quietly releasing the album to a select few before the album's official release on July 17th, 2006.
At this point, post-rock and black metal was a very new thing. Though some imbued the genre fusion to artists like Alcest, whose Le Secret verged on post-rock's grandeur, Neige stated in interviews that he wasn't really a fan of the style back then, instead just sort of happening upon the sound in a natural sort of way. No, it was Caïna who first set out to find the middle ground between these two formerly distant styles of music. As such, Some People Fall suffers from some growing pains, sometimes almost clumsily (but always brilliantly) forcing these two elements together to craft something new. Birth is always painful, and Some People Fall's own genre craft shows the years of hard work, dedication, and planning that went into this first album's grand opening statement.
Some People Fall is a black metal album, at least in part. There are blast beats and songwriting which resembles riffs, but the album's underpinnings speak more to the project's experimental influences and bent. Take, for instance, the project's defining "Satanikulturpessimis," which alternates between post-rock climax and black metal misery in a linear fashion, Curtis-Brignell's manic vocal delivery heralding something new for this era, one which would so suddenly be filled with imitators and pretenders in the years to follow.
I would be remiss to not discuss social media during Some People Fall's time. Released in the MySpace era, the prevailing social media before Facebook's reign, Some People Fall's greatest success was how it was spread. With songs like "Satanikulturpessimis" featured prominently on people's profiles and Curtis-Brignell's own openness, Caïna embraced the new era of sociability and music proliferation without falling prey to being one of the many "MySpace bands" who lived and died on the platform. Though it took half a decade for Caïna to make it to the stage, MySpace was Curtis-Brignell's main platform and communication hub, and, as such, the time surrounding Some People Fall has been lost to the ages, a relic of the early "black metal Internet" was deleted thanks to an IT misstep in the late 2010s.
I spoke with Andy Curtis-Brignell about his debut album in a new interview, which can be read below. Be sure to listen to Some People Fall today (and maybe Mourner and a handful of other Caïna albums, as well), and join me in celebrating 15 years of post-rock/black metal fusion.
Though time marches on, do you personally feel like 15 years have passed since the release of Some People Fall?
You know, it's weird. In some ways I feel like a hundred years have passed since the album came out, in some ways less than a hundred days. I have a bunch of lacunae in my long term memory, some welcome, some frustrating, but the process of putting that record together is still pretty clear, or at least I have some very clear individual impressions of it. That fits, really, since it's a patchwork album taken from a bunch of different sessions and it wasn't even really supposed to be an album until more than half of it already existed in one form or another. I was originally making a fourth demo or EP, they're kind of indistinguishable to me, until I heard back from Todd Paulson at God Is Myth that he really liked the promo package I sent him with a more expanded version of the The Cold Taste of Perdition demo and wanted to fund the pressing of a full length CD. That's one of the reasons it contains a light remix of a song that was already on demos one and two, as well as the fact that "The Validity Of Hate Within An Emotional Vacuum" became kind of a signature song for the project for a while. It was on quite a few people's MySpace profiles, haha. You know I laugh but without the MySpace black metal community I don't think we would be having this conversation 15 years later. People treat the period with a lot of contempt but it was invaluable for me in growing my audience and connecting to peers. I really don't think Caïna would still be a thing without it.
Some People Fall was a pretty drastic change in sound from the demos which preceded it. What led to you wanting to fuse post-rock with black metal in the first place?
What's funny is I thought I was doing that pretty much from the beginning, though I concede that if you listen back to those early recordings it's quite hard to distinguish that and it's definitely Some People Fall that really made that agenda stand out. I got into black metal in Summer 2001, and was already listening to a lot of post rock or art rock at the time, though I primarily come from a post hardcore background in terms of the bands I was in as a kid.
Anyway I really started to dive in deep with the genre about a year after that, and at some point around the time I got my first shitty little guitar in summer 2004 (I was a drummer originally, and yes that means I had been playing for about 18 months when Some People Fall was being put together) I was listening to something really tremolo heavy and just thought to myself, you know, if you cut the distortion a little here this sounds like Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Mogwai or something and ding a little lightbulb went off in my head. I felt that the two genres were atmospherically super compatible if not aesthetically and although I would never say I was the first person to exploit this atmospheric similarity (Weakling's Dead as Dreams was a big factor in making me come to this conclusion as well) I feel like I was maybe amongst the first to very literally make that connection and make it explicit in the music and the way I discussed it. Again, I don't know if I was the first to use slide guitar, ebow, field recordings, clean tremolo, major chords etc on a nominally black metal record but it definitely felt like a jump into the dark either way, and that was exciting. I also gotta say that I can't overstate the impact of the first demo getting 3/10 in Terrorizer magazine, because whilst I was crushed I took the feedback very literally and scrapped what I was doing for the 2nd demo at the time to focus on the one track they liked, which was the most overtly atmospheric aforementioned "The Validity of Hate Within an Emotional Vacuum" and subsequently The Cold Taste of Perdition demo was really what put me on people's radar.
Looking back as a luminary of the post-rock and black metal kingdom, did you expect the following 15 years to be so saturated with the style? In other words, did you expect post-rock black metal to become so popular?
Absolutely not. I'm personally disappointed that it's become codified into its own micro genre, honestly. I think it was practically inevitable once Alcest (who were pretty much contemporaries if not a little earlier with their demo stuff) saw their big success. In the same way that I see the distillation of "post-rock" into something easily quantifiable with a bunch of musical tropes disappointing (it was always an atmospheric classification to me, not just something that referred to crescendo based rock with tremolo guitars, etc.). I feel a little sad that there just seems to have been refinement rather than true progression within the emerging scene. That's not to say that I hate all the bands who self identify as post black metal or post rock influenced black metal or whatever, but, for example, nothing since has ever excited me as much as hearing Dead As Dreams, or Ephel Duath's stuff for the first time, or Grand Declaration of War. If you're not at least making an attempt at pushing the genre as much as those did, why bother?
Caïna went through many transformations after Some People Fall, but this particular album created a framework which survived throughout the project's existence as a black metal project (I'd argue that more recent efforts move beyond that sphere). What was creating this framework like and what did you do to create such balance between your two halves?
I'm very much an album guy rather than a song guy in my own listening, and although some of the material existed before this was supposed to be a full length, I started something I still do as part of my process today, which is literally drawing a waveform like chart on a bar graph set of axes of the albums shape, by which I mean pacing, emotional peaks and troughs, things like that. Probably looks like an unintelligible scribble to anyone else. Other than that honestly it was a very naive process in that I never set out with any one song to be like "well this needs 40 percent post rock and 60 percent black metal. There's so much experimentation and audible...fucking around I guess you would say that I think the real answer is that I make records the way I make records and have never really consciously deviated from that. I absolutely didn't hit perfection the first time… or any time, for that matter, but I het on the way "Andy Makes Records" first time for sure. I think I still have a naïve process.
Though the following album Mourner displayed a more developed mixture of styles and what seemed to be a more comfortable performance from yourself, Some People Fall's earnest presentation was the first public presentation of its kind. What was the songwriting process like and what inspirations did you look to throughout this development?
I was really throwing a lot of influences at the wall and scraping what was left off the carpet. Swans Soundtracks for the Blind and a lot of stuff on Constellation records were the primary influences on the sound collage aspects of the record like "BlackEndTymeCollapse" or "Abraxas Gate," whereas the more overtly melodic stuff was very much me trying to emulate stuff I liked from bands like the Appleseed Cast but with more of a David Sylvian or Dave Gahan kind of vocal. Not that I'm trying to stack that stuff up next to mine, but that's what was being attempted. I didn't necessarily feel external pressure to include lots of sounds, just that if I was going to maybe only make this one album, as far as I knew, I should just throw everything I possibly could at it. A lot of people call me unfocused, and I've taken that on board, sincerely, in the years since, but the first two albums were absolutely me just making sure I included as much as humanly possible in case I never got the chance again. Not just because of labels or whatever, but in case I died, really. I was going to a lot of shows at the time and hung around with a lot of people putting them on, one night I ended up on a fairly long car ride with the musician Martin Grech who had this huge record and a car advert and everything but then basically tanked his career to make this terrifying industrial album, and I remember talking to him about feeling like you need to throw a lot of ingredients in to keep yourself interested otherwise what was the point. That was a cool interaction that's always stuck in the back of my head. If its not consistently interesting to you personally, what's the fucking point?
Black metal-wise I remember being particularly obsessed with stuff like early Xasthur and that weird early '00s proto depressive/suicidal black metal at the time, which I think you can really hear in the kind of loping but muscular quality those sections have. I feel like the black metal sections are the most underdeveloped sounding parts of the record, I think simply due to poor execution, even though it seems to foreshadow my losing interest, in ultimately putting it at the forefront of my sound. The process of writing it is one of the hardest things to talk about because not only was I fucking loopy and fucked up the entire time, there was no formal process and it was recorded in I think three or four different places that I then obfuscated by grouping them as Tantalus II studios.
Some People Fall was released by the sadly defunct label God Is Myth Records, who gave the world bands like Velnias, Stroszek, Procer Veneficus, and other underground mid-2000s necessities. What first led you to linking up with label founder Todd Paulson?
The first thing to understand is that between May 2005 and the beginning of 2006 was that I sent out a couple hundred promo CDs of various material, tailored to the labels generally, to basically anyone pressing underground or outsider music. I wore out my first university laptop by burning them. I don't really know what I wanted other than for someone to be intrigued enough to encourage me to send more stuff, to be honest. I believe the sequence of events was that I had ordered something from the God Is Myth distro and ended up pitching him the project. I don't think I had a proper web presence at this point so it would have been a CD. Now he wasn't by any means the only response I got to this, it's how Drakkar Productions ended up pressing the tapes they did of the second and third demos, but he was the only one who sounded like a normal fucking dude and didn't put some kind of weird front on his communication. He seemed exactly as he turned out to be; an honest, creative, fair dealing man with a sincere interest in what I was doing and where the weirder fringes of the scene were going. It's strange, I've never really felt like my music was especially good, I've never really felt that I've had anything especially interesting to say, even, but something inside me had this relentless need to put music out there regardless. I've very much grown up with the project to the point where as much as I will often try to seperate myself from it, my identity and my musical identity are inevitably, inexorably, inextricably linked. In hindsight, being diagnosed with a form of autism as an adult makes this make a lot more sense to me, Caïna is my way of communicating with the wider world, and although he wasn't the first to take any kind of interest Todd really seemed to understand that almost before I did. I'm very grateful to him.
This album's cover features a butterfly, which is, much like the music held within, outside black metal's usual aesthetic. What were you looking to achieve with Some People Fall's cover artwork?
Todd designed the cover and from what I recall there wasn't a great deal of discussion, I believe my only real instruction was to make it look like a Slowdive album or something very shoegazey at any rate. We were very much allowing the non metal aspects of the recording to dominate in the presentation and marketing, there wasn't any real desire to shy away from that like I've had with other labels I worked with later on who tend to emphasise whatever metal pedigree I had at the time, which I understand as I've worked with some cool people but once again it was a real instance of Todd really understanding what we had immediately, perhaps better than I did.
Some People Fall's lyrics deal with a multitude of personal demons and experiences, at least from what I can tell as half the album's lyrics weren't published in the liner notes. What did you want to communicate with this album? Was there a central theme?
Thematically it's somewhat a parody of traditional black metal with its monochrome, manichean worldview, which I think extends to the music. Not parody in the sense of mockery but in the true satirical sense, an attempt to cut through the posturing to what I felt was the real truth of black metal which is that it seemed to me to be primarily about vulnerable young people cathartically screaming into the void. I guess I was trying to see what would happen if someone stripped back the theatricality and was more emotionally honest about what they were doing there.
At the same time I guess I confused things a little by including a satirical Satanic song (Satanikulturpessimis) with an earnest satanic prayer at the end! You have to bear in mind that as much as I had status quo challenging ideas of what I wanted to do, I was still 19 when the stuff was being written and the album is very much a hodgepodge of things I was into, especially when considered next to its immediate followup. In terms of their being a central theme, I think again in contrast to a lot of the messaging in black metal at the time Some People Fall as a title, and the title being the thematic binder for the record, was very much intended to be about forgiving yourself for being human and frail, or acknowledging that not everyone's life turns out the way they planned. That was certainly something I was really feeling at the time, as someone who was increasingly becoming more and more ill, physically and mentally. I've adopted various characters and idioms on other albums that might seem to contradict this - people were confused when I wrote songs from the perspective of my mental illness on Gentle Illness for example but that's very much a drum I'll still beat. Some people barely make it through the day, or continuously fuck up, but they're still people with value. "Falling" doesn't mean "lost." I think I have to believe that, because I've spent so much of my life feeling broken and lost myself.
Caïna has primarily been a vehicle for your creativity alone. Though the early and mid-2000s were marked by an uptick in black metal solo projects, what was the solo experience like for you, especially during the creation of Some People Fall?
Discounting that a little bit of the material already existed in some form or another, and my disintegrating mental and physical health, immersing myself into a larger scale project was mostly bliss. It always liked doing long form essays, stuff like that, so it was really the equivalent of sinking into a library for a few months. The major problem I had was neighbours when tracking drums. I recorded a bunch of them in my old student house and after a really bad first interaction I would always check with the elderly couple next door when it was OK to play but sure enough I would start and 15 mins later this old guy would start throwing house bricks and tools at the external wall, screaming at the top of his lungs to try and get me to stop! I think you can hear this as a muffled thud if you listen really closely on "Inside the Outside." It was okay, though, I respected his absolute hatred for us all in that house, a bunch of musicians and drug-addled losers for the most part. I would absolutely hate us if we moved next door to my current self.
Did you overcome anything during these early days as a solo artist? What difficulties did you work through during the Some People Fall sessions? What did you learn while composing, recording, and promoting Some People Fall?
I was still learning guitar (by the time of release I think I owned one for maybe two years at that point), I was still learning how to operate my newish 8-track! I had this dinky Boss recorder and I learned so much on the hoof with this record, from how to mix so it wasn't quite so demo sounding, to how to push an album to people in terms of retailing it. The experience of someone else pressing my stuff to pro-CD, that first box arriving, managing orders and special editions, it all set the groundwork for everything to come. I never really did learn guitar though. Putting a live lineup together for the album release show (which ultimately consisted of just me and a drummer that first time) was harder than any part of the recording process in all truth. It's always been that way for me. I like the hermit aspect of hunkering down and creating, not the extrovert stuff that comes with performing. I sometimes like playing live, depending very much on context and personnel, but that part has never come easily.
The introduction of "post-rock black metal" into the black metal world was marked by reviews which tried very hard to explain just how close to black metal these early albums were (I recall people comparing Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde to a certain black metal artist solely due to the use of tremolo-picked guitar, for instance). What was your experience watching people try to claim Caina as a fully black metal artist during this time, especially while you were composing the much more experimental Mourner?
Anxiety, mostly. People get very defensive over bIack metal, and have often seen what I do as diluting it somehow. I think it's a profoundly stupid opinion to have, but it's not an insignificant minority that hold it. I have always tried to allow other people to label the project and allow the music to stand on its own as much as possible as I don't ever want to miss sell what I'm doing. On the other hand, I could not really be less interested in genre as a monolith. Genre the way metal uses it in particular. Beyond "Okay, this is jazz, this is rock, this is hip hop" I've always found it supremely odd that people get so fervent and team-like towards "genre": a thing that is maybe five percent informational and 95% marketing. As someone who has, to my detriment, never had much of an interest in the marketing side of things I've always wished there was a way of sidestepping these discussions entirely. Getting hyped about genre as a listener just feels very tribal and I've never been much of a "joiner." Also, I meet a lot of people who base their entire identity on whatever microgenre niche they fit into and they're always the most boring fucking asshole you ever met in your life.
As you've developed the Caïna sound into something in its own sphere over the past decade and a half, what are your thoughts on Some People Fall now? Would you change anything about it in hindsight?
God, almost everything, from a musical perspective! I would say that it overwhelmingly does not work well as a piece of art. I like maybe three tracks from it a lot. I think the post rock stuff has aged fairly well but the more sinister tracks really haven't. I think you can feel that as my almost immediate reaction when you listen to Mourner, to be honest. I was quite openly disappointed with my own work very shortly after it came out and you can see not just more experimentation but a simple reduction in the inclusion of the stuff that ended up sucking from the first record, i.e. there's really almost no metal on there at all. Later when I became more comfortable with my process and performances I gradually added it back in. But to be sure without Some People Fall none of my later work would have happened the way it did, so maybe I should just accept it for what it is.
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