Dante Alighieri once said “The path to paradise begins in Hell.” Andy Curtis-Brignell and Laurence Taylor, the backbone of Caïna, hold these powerful words close and no album makes this more apparent than their new outing – Christ Clad in White Phosphorus. Take a step backwards if you wil: in 2007 the UK anomaly brought forth the bitter-sweet droning of Mourner, a year later they diverged into ear-friendly post-rock with Temporary Antenna, Hands that Pluck offered “straight-up” black metal, while Litanies of Abjection and Setter of Unseen Snares sent you scrambling for that trusty bottle of Prozac hidden in the darkest recesses of your closet! No matter where or when you entered Caïna‘s discography, it’s soon apparent that no two Caïna albums are the same and at times it’s even a stretch of the imagination believing a single creative force stands behind this artistry. True to form, Christ Clad in White Phosphorus quickly establishes that, after a 20-month wait, it’s a well-formed, fascinating and unrepentant piece of art. You’d be wise to remember today, for it’s the beginning of always.
To tweak another Dante-ism, the more a thing is perfect, the more it exerts pleasure and pain. No words could align more absolutely with how Christ Clad in White Phosphorus plays out. From the get-go, “Oildrenched and Geartorn” mechanically works its way under your skin. It’s an understated throwback to the minimalism and overbearingly gloomy 80s darkwave scene and bands like Bauhaus. I won’t lie, it plays on for such an extended period of time, it had me checking my headphones to see if they were functioning correctly. And then the big transition, “Torture Geometry” drags you into a hellish cacophony of muddy, churlish black metal. Sonically it plays to it’s title perfectly, the shape and relative arrangement of the song-parts, of the vocals, fighting the mechanical rhythm left over from the opening track.
Christ Clad ends up being a cvlt journey through sound effect/noise across 4 tracks, seamlessly woven into ruthless Norwegian styled black metal tainted with ugly doom and black ‘n roll experiments over 6 tracks, all brought to a close with a 80s darkwave styled excursion. Of the effect/noise tracks “The Throat of the World” brings to mind a blend of Ulver and Skitliv, creating an environment that feels nothing short of alien. “Pillars of Salt” is a convoluted, abandoned amusement park put to music as only Kristoffer Rygg could do, but this time combined with the disjointedness of Igorrr. The last of the noise tracks, an 11-minute plus epic, washes over you in waves much like “Not Saved.”
Stepping through what I’m going to term the “musical” tracks, “Fumes of God” features one of the few breezy and some might say “uplifting” moments of this hellish journey. Caïna quickly crush it, putting an abrupt end to their foible as “Gazing on the Quantum Megalith” opens with a few moments of Pain-riddled industrial metal, before falling back on muddy, washing-machine-like black ‘n roll. “God’s Tongue as an Ashtray” follows reminding me early on of Taake, folding in and on itself before successfully dabbling in the kind of funeral doom I crave from Loss. The back end of the album doesn’t let up. Aggressive, hammering drums and guitars form a wall-of-noise and introduce “Entartete Kunst” before “The Promise of Youth” rounds out, alluding to the kind of engulfing melancholy, pain and lack of promise that befits an outing with Deadspace.
A big part of what makes Christ Clad in White Phosphorus work, comes from Andy Curtis-Brignell and Laurence Taylor’s combined vocal contributions. Their vocal theatrics range from disjointed, incoherent rasps on “Torture Geometry,” to bludgeoning blackened croaks and barks side-by-side with clean spoken word and the isolated lamentations of a voice trapped in a radio transmission on “God’s Tongue as an Ashtray” and “Entartete Kunst.” On an album already packed with experimentation and weird influence this just adds another hook.
Christ Clad in White Phosphorus is unlike anything Caïna have done before. Were I hard-pressed to liken it to their earlier work, I’d say that it’s probably closest to the flow of Mourner but darker and with far less “pretty” melodic reprieve. This is an excellent album, though not necessarily an easy listen, and I expect it’ll appeal to a niche market, but if you’re a fan of Caïna and you’re willing to put in the time to truly appreciate their fine artistry, this is a hellish trip worth taking.