Perhaps it’s more a sign of the things I interest myself in than anything else, but it feels like it’s been a while since an album created the levels of anticipation and excitement that Setter Of Unseen Snares has. Hands That Pluck has been a favourite of mine since release, and Caïna‘s past releases have shown that main man Andrew Curtis-Brignell is one to pursue his own musical vision rather than release what people think he should (just compare tracks from Litanies Of Abjection, to Hands That Pluck, to Mourner). Add to that some delays in release, and an interview in which he showed himself to be that most unexpected of things in black metal (a decent human being), and my anticipation for this album could not have been higher. Now, having spent some time with it and allowing my initial thoughts to cool, I feel confident in saying that my excitement for Setter Of Unseen Snares was not misplaced. That this is some of the most emotional, unsettling, and thrilling music I’ve heard in a while, regardless of genre.
The first half of the album showcases Caïna’s talent at the kind of black metal that will appeal to fans of bands such as Krieg (with whom they have collaborated several times). Bleak in tone and punk-influenced in sound, “I Am The Flail Of The Lord” follows the unsettling introductory track, moving from USBM style riffs and disorientating movements to something quieter and more restrained – yet no less sinister – for the mid-section. It demonstrates that Caïna’s ability to use atmosphere as well as raw power is as strong as ever. The following title track is utterly punishing, as is “Vowbound”, which includes a majestic movement just after the halfway mark that is cinematic in scope; grand without being grandiose. It’s the kind of movement that is both thoroughly of black metal, whilst simultaneously moving beyond the boundaries of the genre. “Applicant | Supplicant”, meanwhile, constantly moves between moments that are, by turns, punishing, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and terrifying. It’s a total triumph of a song, that closes a superb half of absorbing, disquieting black metal.
It’s the second half of Setter Of Unseen Snares where things reach their peak, though. At fifteen and a half minutes long, “Orphan” is a slow burner of a track, spending over three minutes on its introduction before guitars and vocals make themselves known. Slow, heavy, and undeniably emotional – aided in no small part by the intelligent use of clean vocals – it is the kind of music that pulls at the heart, as emotionally heavy as it is musically. But it’s around the 7:15 mark, when the clean guitar lead comes in, that the song begins to reach its apex. This is the sound of beautiful desolation, of the most terrible kind of wonder, of beholding majesties that should never have come to be. There have been similar moments before, in Caïna’s back catalogue – they’re a large part of why I love Hands That Pluck so much – but this is the absolute apex of such music, and when the intense, soaring final minutes begin – featuring guitars and melodies, both clean and tremolo-picked, that will surely be appreciated by fans of Deafheaven – it almost becomes too much. It is the emotional and musical equivalent of staring in to some bleak, dying sun. As beautiful as it is dangerous, climaxing in a sudden explosion, it is one of the most moving musical experiences I have had in some time, and continues to be so even after repeated listens.
And all of that is even before the lyrics and theme of the album are taken in to account. More than a mere collection of songs, Setter Of Unseen Snares is an album that tells a story. The lyrics will make that clear enough, but the accompanying short story, whilst hardly necessary to enjoy the album, gives it that extra weight; the tale of child sacrifice and apocalypse hinting at as much as it reveals, leaving the reader/listener to fill in the blanks themselves.
It probably goes without saying that Setter Of Unseen Snares is as much a work of art as it is a piece of music to listen to, yet despite that, there is no pretension here. Rather, it is something that will snare the listener if given half a chance (no pun intended), pulling them deeper and deeper in with its multitude of textures, movements, and emotions. It is not a record that you will forget about in a hurry, and if given half a chance, is sure to leave its mark upon you. If, as mused, this does end up being the final Caïna album, then it will be a truly high note for the band to end on. In terms of scope, ambition, and success, Setter Of Unseen Snares puts almost any other album you care to name to shame.