If you’re going to flop-flop over as many genres as possible in what is basically an extended EP, then this is a study in how high you can aim. Cave of Swimmers have been attracting no small amount of attention, not all of it positive, I have to say. But whether this Venezuelan-moved-to-Florida duo is just too cool for school is not my concern. Is it any good? And will I be listening to this again after I sign this off with a full-stop? Cave of Swimmers – a reference to ancient cave art found in the Sahara Desert in southern Egypt (the Neolithic figures appeared to be swimming prompting the early theory that the area used to be somewhat less arid) – is on its second release here and, for the most part, this is very enjoyable. Lot’s of rhythm, mood and melody changes and a knack for getting those metal-meets-psychedelic rock tunes embedded in your head within seconds. So why the mediocre score? I’ll get to that later because this is a decent release even though this review is not without its criticisms. I’ll start by saying that trying to put your finger on whether this is metal, rock, doom or whatever else is the first issue. I love to pigeon hole things – it’s my god given right as a reviewer. I’ll plum for a heavier stoner rock. Planet Rock over planet doom albeit with more experimentally operatic vocals (of the System of a Down variety rather than the church bell tollin’ of Messiah Marcolin). But add to that some doom-laden Sabbath-style riffs and some witty drop-ins of half-remembered tunes, some blues jamming and the occasional break into 70s rock territory, and this has all the ingredients of a powerhouse of a record.
But I can also see how a band like Cave of Swimmers ruffles feathers. They’re called Cave of Swimmers for a start instead of Witch Temple or something like that, and they’re clearly pitched at an audience which may not consider metal to be their first born son. Total heresy, I know. Switching from genre to genre in one track could also seem like box ticking if it’s not done smoothly. But, my main concern is that, I couldn’t help thinking these guys have bitten off more than they can chew – and for the second release in a row. Lobbing in as much as they could as they set about surfin’ the old genres but then having to concentrate on balancing so hard they occasionally hit a sand bank – with predictable consequences.
My second thought is that Cave of Swimmers may sound quite exciting and fresh at first – although anyone who’s overdosed on the likes of Baroness, Kylesa, Red Fang and Pelican might not be so ready to agree. But this is a solid step on from their debut in that some of the creases have been ironed out. The length of the tracks – the first two tracks both clocking in at around 10 minutes with two shorter tracks taking this to around 30 minutes – is entirely justified this time round. Also, the sand banks are fewer and further between here but somehow just makes them all the more noticeable. The opener The Prince of The Power of the Air wastes no time mixing things up with a god almighty vocal line, some cool bongo drums (yes, you read that right), some Lizzy-esque guitar soloing and cool atmospherics.
Perhaps the big issue that jumped out at about halfway through the first track, though, was the vocals – which I initially expected to fall for in a big way. But the singer, who for me suits a hollering Kings of Leon rock style far more than during his almost-Serj Tankian efforts seemed to struggle to take such a central role in the set up. He provides a new dimension to the band’s multilayered talents and does a good job of doing big and powerful at times. But they also end up taking a few bruises towards the end of the track and the very repetitive nature of the lyrics and the fact that they’re very high in the mix exposes the issues I have with them.
By the second track, The Skull, they launch into full operatic mode before a more manageable full-octane rock scream which it where it works best. In fact, The Skull probably has the best turn into full-on psychedelic rock mode of any of the tracks and this is worth checking out for that alone. Equally, the penultimate track Still Running sounds great – barring a bit of vocal ball-dropping, which by now is beginning to make me brace a little with each passing track. In fact the instrumental Reflection came as a bit of a breather because I started to relax knowing that the music would, from here on in, be totally vocal-clanger free. It was a shame it turned out to be the least interesting track of the album instead of the rip-roaring jam-ride it could have been.
On the whole, I liked two thirds of Reflection. But it did feel stretched. Less of a talent demonstration and more of an awareness that we can follow where you lead, would’ve been good. There is a lot of clever stuff in here but maybe Cave of Swimmers could concentrate on doing fewer things better. One of the big issues, as you might have picked up, is that in a metal world where we are totally spoilt for fantastic vocal over-achievers, I began to turn a bit cold on the performance by the singer who I began to constantly feel was pushing the boundaries beyond his capabilities. It would have been quite easy for him not to have over-stretched himself and still not taken anything at all away from this record. Am I being harsh? Maybe. But when a band does so much so well, it’s harder to ignore the holes. And when the vocals are clearly placed to be such a central part of the action, in the final analysis, I couldn’t help thinking if only this band had three members instead of two – now that might really be something.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)