Cara Neir Overcomes Stagnant Perceptions With “Pain Gel of Purification” (Interview)
Since forming in 2009, Cara Neir's brand of experimental and extreme metal has maintained a frightening level of consistency throughout its many permutations. Across their last few releases alone–a smattering of full-length albums, EPs, and splits–the Arlington, Texas duo has dipped their toes into hardcore, emo, and chiptuned black metal, and though each record’s style may be up for debate, the quality of their work is not. Their latest album, Pain Gel of Purification is not only a pivot away from the 8-bit heavy Phase Out, but a rare revisitation to a sound the band has not touched in nearly a decade.
If you're not familiar with Cara Neir's extensive discography, Pain Gel of Purification is very much the spiritual successor to the band's 2012 EP, Sublimation Therapy, their first radical departure away from black metal and to a more hardcore-and-punk-oriented style. Opener "Spicy Sabbatical Spectrophilia" sets the pace for the record, its mash of skronky, palm-muted chugs and math-y outbursts immediately reminiscent of early Myspace-era metalcore. And though much like the music of that time and place, Pain Gel of Purification is mostly composed of disconnected riffs, seemingly cobbled together with nothing but a prayer and some scotch tape, it works. Along with Chris Francis' constantly shifting vocals–a variety of pitch-shifted growls, ear-piercing shrieks and everything in-between–you’re kept on toes throughout the length of the album, and there's something exhilarating about not knowing what type of passage is coming next.
Keeping in line with the unexpected nature of the music, Chris' lyrics constantly teeter between utterly outrageous and surprisingly pointed. Tracks like "Matthew Lillard is Pretty Fucking Great" ("I wanna see him cast as the Riddler before we all die/ I wanna see it") and "Portable Prophet" ("DRINK ME AND GAIN THE STRENGTH OF THE SLURPEE GODS YOU PLEBIAN!") reveal the vocalist's off-kilter sense of humor. Meanwhile "Get Me the Fuck Out of Here" ("I don't care if you're family either, more of reason for me to be ashamed") takes a stab at a decidedly more serious issue, with Francis' palpable rage coming through with every belched syllable.
Given Pain Gel of Purification's chaotic and often unpredictable leanings, I had some questions after my first listen. Luckily, Francis and Brents were available and willing to answer any questions or quandaries I had in the interview below.
Cara Neir’s last album, Phase Out, was a combination of black metal and chiptune. What caused the sudden pivot and return to a heavier, more grind influenced sound for Pain Gel of Purification?
Garry: It was a spur of the moment recess from that sound right around a time when a friend asked us this summer to do a split with his noisecore project Infernal Legions of Mordor. We made eight songs for it (release TBA likely early 2022). Due to the nature of Infernal Legions of Mordor's sound and ethos, we wanted to go heavier, more abrasive and crass. The split songs inspired ourselves to continue writing more in that vein. That led to me quickly writing songs for what became Pain Gel of Purification and Chris was totally on board with the shift, likening the intensity back to past releases of ours like Sublimation Therapy or The Overwatch EP.
Cara Neir's "heavier" material usually runs the gamut between the death metal, grind, and hardcore genres. Who are artists that come to mind when it comes to inspiration for Cara Neir's "heavier, more abrasive and crass" sound?
Garry: Certainly. Some of the artists that fuel that inspiration sonically and musically alike: Rotten Sound, Pig Destroyer, Nasum, Suffocation, Fuck the Facts, Cryptopsy, Alpinist, and His Hero is Gone.
When you’re writing that more caustic material, what is the most important element to get across for you? How do you approach writing material for a release like Pain Gel of Purification compared to something like Phase Out?
Garry: For Pain Gel or something similar, the most important element that’s on the forefront of our minds is intensity. And intensity through means of production choices as well as the chaotic nature of not being stagnant in the songwriting. Phase Out certainly follows the latter quality but intensity wasn’t a primary motivator for that album, more so the depiction of storytelling and fun.
Speaking of the production, as a two-man band where you produce your own material, what do you think some of the challenges are that you face as only a duo. Conversely, what do you think some of the advantages have been?
Garry: I think some of the challenges are that I'm trying to think of how a full band would implement their respective parts to a song and album, not just musically but tone-wise. So it can be a challenge trying to sit outside myself and put myself in an imaginary person's shoes in a way, or perhaps a different version of myself. Coincidentally, I see this as an advantage as well because everything is self-contained when it comes to time constraints. Every production choice we do is in-house. Chris has been fortunate to have a recording setup in his home for the last year as well, which wasn't the case in the past and that has sped up our workflow tremendously! Bouncing tracks to him and receiving his vocal recordings for me to put into the mix.
Like many of your previous releases, on Pain Gel of Purification Chris employs a myriad of different vocal techniques, from gutturals, to shrieks, to different mid-ranged shouts and screams. How do you determine which vocal style is best to fit where? Is there any difference in how you approached your vocalizations here as compared to a release like Phase Out?
Chris: We started writing music in this style for a split release (Infernal Legions of Mordor), before we started the writing process for Pain Gel, but wanted to amplify that intensity and sensation of being off the rails, so I had a good idea of how I was going to approach the music vocally. I dug deep into my bag of shrieks and shouts for the two aforementioned releases, trying to create something I hadn't before with some of the vocals present on Pain Gel.
Chris, lyrically, you draw from all over the map. Songs like "Al Bacio" seemingly draw from your experiences as chef, while "Get Me the Fuck Out of Here" feels based in a familial disagreement over the recent mask mandates. How do you decide what to write about, and if you could, what was it about these two experiences in particular that spurred you into writing songs about them?
Chris: For this release in general, I had planned to write about everything and the kitchen sink from the get-go. It was quite the cathartic experience writing for Pain Gel because we wanted to absolutely fucking let loose for this release, and I told Garry straight up that I was going to write about some zany shit; the opening track is written about having a kink for making sexy time with ghosts; one track is a twisted childhood fairytale about cute animals and unrequited love; another talks about my dissatisfaction with the ready-to-eat food selections at 7/11 after hours.
"Al Bacio" in particular is written about the vehement dislike of "foodies" within the hospitality industry, indeed reflecting on my personal experiences as a chef. I wanted to point out the absurdity in people (food bloggers/critics) who have made a career writing about food that they eat, sometimes even messing with an individual's job security with their typically embellished and borderline slanderous reviews. This shouldn't be an issue in an already toxic industry that is difficult to persevere, let alone work in.
"Get Me the Fuck Out of Here" is a track I think a lot of people will be able to identify with, a track that targets the largely Red group of individuals who have perpetuated COVID-19 cases and the ever-growing divide between humans. It's an attempt to point out the extremely dangerous, cult-like ignorance that is carried out amongst all of these like-minded individuals who would sooner pump themselves with a horse dewormer than get a vaccine.
As for the why, the reasoning behind writing about something like defamatory food critics, or dumbass COVIDiots? Why not?
How does the passing of ideas work between you two, and what does that process usually look like? Do you still find it difficult to structure songs working in different locations, or have you two worked out a system over the years?
Garry: Our system has been quite smooth since the beginning I would say, where I complete a song or string of songs for a release instrumentally and send them to Chris. Sometimes it’s a song at a time as we put an album together and sometimes it could even be the whole thing in full sent to him to ruminate on. Our workflow has increased the past year where the sending of ideas on his side is new for us, because he used to come over and record with me. But now he can record on his own and send files. Very efficient process.
How long would you say it takes for a song to be completed?
Garry: It could vary, but for this album in particular some took a couple of days and some in a couple of hours! Overall, this album was fully conceptualized and then completed within 2 weeks of time.
Pain Gel of Purification seems to carry a more humorous tone to it than previous releases. Where did that title come from, and was it meant to be slightly more comedic and light-hearted in tone?
Garry: Definitely a more humorous tone. Since all of our full lengths either start with or contain a P word, I had a long night thinking of a title of P words strung together. I already had in mind before the album was written that we’d go into a humorous and satirical direction here, especially on product placement. The pain gel of purification is a fun jab at being a fictional product dually inspired by 90s infomercial products/toys and also a symbol of an "Angel of Purification" which is a commentary of people sadly believing things like horse dewormers (or other conspiratorial phenomena) being legitimate solutions when they’re not. Overall, the name can represent both light-heartedness as well as satire.
I had never noticed the inclusion of 'P' in every full length before! Why that letter?
Garry: It started out as a total coincidence, nothing intentional. But by the time Part III/Part IV was being created, it was a lightbulb moment that we’ve since committed to. EPs have been an exception of course, but we do have at least one in the pipeline next year fitting the naming scheme.
You have two guests on the album, listed as Mel and Glitzy. What can you tell me about how those collabs came to be?
Chris: Mel's guest appearance on "Portable Prophet" was actually me basically injecting a blooper into the final product. While I was recording that day, she was walking through the room when I was screaming the line "as I pass by their yum confections," and she went "mmmmm" as I finished it. I had to stop and cut some out because I started to laugh, but I thought it would actually fit pretty well to have her on that bit. So we did a retake and kept it.
I had some leftover samples taken of my cats to use in a song for a side-project of mine, and felt that the attention-seeking yowl of Glitzy featured in "Litter Krew" was perfect for that track.
What was the toughest and what was the most fun part of the recording process for Pain Gel of Purification?
Garry: Reacclimating my guitar playing to a more technical style to fit this album, somewhere similar to what I’ve done with Sallow Moth but way more frenzied. The most fun part for me was going totally off the rails with finding samples/FX. Mostly goofy bits I ripped from 90s Are You Afraid of the Dark episodes, Rocko’s Modern Life, and old commercials.
Chris: The best part of recording was seeing how batshit stupid I could make the next song, lyrically and vocally. I remember sending Garry song ideas and lyrics and him just going, "holy fucking shit dude." It was great and might have been the most fun I've had on one of our releases, and I think it shows in the music.
Hardest part might have been matching the lyrical insanity with equal vocal intensity. I wanted to mirror the theme of each song and Garry's musical madness perfectly with my vocal performance, and some of the techniques I used on this album were some I had never tried before. This album contains some wholly unique passages.
To wrap everything up, I know you two have a bunch of projects in the works. Is there anything in particular you'd like to plug and/or are excited for?
Garry: Definitely! There is a lot in the works (some complete or near complete, some with foundational ideas). We're incredibly excited about the sequel to Phase Out coming July 2022 and the third album in that trilogy, which is planned for 2023. Chris and I also have a sort of secret project we're slowly working on. Very different from Cara Neir and any of my solo projects. TBA on more info or release date. We'd also like to thank you for your many years of support for us and taking the time to interview us.
Pain Gel of Purification is out now.