Caina / Godheadscope
Mourner / A City Out of Sight
B / B+
side from controversy, the legacy of Varg Vikernes' Burzum is the one-man black metal band. The idiom is prone to solipsism, but in the right hands, it's a gateway. American practitioners Xasthur, Leviathan, and Krohm, to name a few, have pushed the format to psychedelic, highly personal extremes. Later Burzum moved away from black metal towards ambient experimentation; one-man bands worldwide now use black metal as a point of departure. Caina and Godheadscope are two of the most exciting artists today in this vein. The work of both could barely be called black metal, but Burzum runs in their blood.
Caina is Andrew Curtis-Brignell, who, at the tender age of 20, deserves the "genius" tag. While his peers parade about in panda paint, proclaiming misanthropy yet adding MySpace friends, Curtis-Brignell is unmasked, bespectacled, a dude with an acoustic guitar. Early demos aped Burzum's midpaced buzz, but even then, Caina had identity—haunting singing here, a coruscating clean tone there. Over time, Caina departed black metal for dark ambience, post-rock, neo-folk, and other un-metallic realms. The I, Mountain EP, released earlier this year, is a thrilling snapshot of this evolution, weaving myriad styles into a 20-minute journey.
Mourner refines Caina's sound(s); the ambience is more focused, the melodies more memorable. Curtis-Brignell is getting mighty proficient at audio editing. The album opens with a bulkheads-and-boilers soundscape worthy of The City of Lost Children. The scene then cuts to droplets of old piano fit for a Kieślowski film. Not until the second track does a proper song swim into view. Acoustic strummings and Jeff Buckley-esque croons yield to oceanic waves of shoegazing distortion, as Curtis-Brignell's black metal past resurfaces and howls. The album is rife with this type of transformation. One second, you're in quiet forests; the next, you're drowning.
Profound Lore (who is rapidly becoming the vanguard of avant-garde metal) put out Mourner, but so could have 4AD in its prime. "Constantine the Blind" and "Morgawr" are gothic folk with electric interruptions; "The Sleep of Reason" recalls the delirious shoegazing of the Verve's A Storm in Heaven. A hidden track even drops bouncy post-punk, albeit with windswept desert tones.
God Is Myth, which released I, Mountain as well as Caina's Some People Fall full-length, has another empire-builder in A City Out of Sight. Godheadscope is Matt Rosin, who has collaborated with Polish black metal outfits Dead Raven Choir and Wolfmangler. In Godheadscope, Rosin leaves black metal behind almost entirely. He runs modern classical composition through ambient drone and noise; the title of the second track, "Joy/Grime," could be a manifesto. "Room of Light" is a marvel of minimalism. Sustained foghorn tones (think timestretched digital brass) sound at regular intervals, with weighty space in between. Over ten minutes, the tones build and recede like the Ujjayi breath of yoga.
"Joy/Grime" drops delicate piano into fields of electrical interference. The buzzing grows, overtaking the piano, while ghostly vocals waft in the background. Left hand joins right hand in counterpoint, as acoustic guitar strums beats. The track rolls like a slow night train; after church bells sound, the track disappears into the horizon. "Dusk on Glass," too, takes its time. It unfolds symphonically, silicon cellos grandly sustaining below shimmering high end. The only blot is "The Weight of Paper," with its unfocused dissonance and messy mix. But, like Curtis-Brignell, Rosin is still peaking. His MySpace has a new track, "Medusa in the Cistern," forthcoming on a split with Italian dark acoustic act Stroszek; it's the best thing Michael Nyman never wrote.