Cave In are one of those bands that have managed to divide and confound opinion over the course of their almost 25 years existence as a band from both positive and negative perspectives. With feet in numerous camps from a musical influences’ perspective, Cave In have dabbled in both the light and shade of the metal and rock genres. It’s this ability to straddle (and take advantage of vocalist Stephen Brodsky’s incredible vocal range from Death Metal grunts to soaring operatics in the space of a bar of music) that had seen the band take a fair number of critical brickbats and praise in equal measures. Hailing from the Boston area, Cave In and their acolytes of the Boston post metal scene including such luminaries as Isis (whose vocalist/guitar overlord Aaron Turner’s Hydra Head Records have released the vast majority of Cave In’s creative output over the year as well as creating all the artwork) and Converge, the bond between these bands and others has seen members pop in an out of each other’s bands whilst spawning side projects such as Old Man Gloom, Zozobra, Sumac and Mutoid Man.
Looking back, Cave In’s first two albums (1998’s ‘Until Your Heart Stops’ and 2000 ‘Jupiter’) were ferocious slabs of post rock/metal that were nuanced softer moments juxtaposed with crushing metal riffs (incidentally one of the heaviest songs in their cannon is simply titled ‘Big Riff) as the band built a solid fan base, whilst gaining critical acclaim. Major labels came calling and Cave In were plucked from relatively obscurity and into the gilded birdcage of major label RCA, which saw Cave In focus on their mellower moments and traverse the world with Foo Fighters. Fans, unhappy with Cave In’s perceived musical treachery, vocally slammed the band, and after a year of touring, Cave In themselves appeared dissatisfied with the new softer approach, put two fingers up to RCA, ditched (mostly) the lighter songs and reverted to their heavier post metalcore/hardcore which was reflected on their next few records before going on a long term hiatus in 2011 as side projects took precedent.
But Cave In have returned and whilst their new material should be greeted with raucous cheers and smiles, ‘Final Transmission’ comes draped in tragedy and sadness following as it does the death of Cave In’s bassist/vocalist Caleb Scofield in a car accident in March of 2018 (he plays on all tracks here and half the proceeds of this album’s sales go to his family). The feeling of grief is palpable throughout the album’s 9 tracks none more so that album opener ‘Final Transmission’ which is a work in progress, solitary guitar and guide vocals recorded by Caleb days before he died. It’s a heart-rending beginning that sets the tone for the album in general, favouring a meditative approach over brute force. ‘All Illusion’ is a beautiful expansive shimmering rock anthem, with Brodsky’s vocals soaring as Adam McGraths guitar twinkles and glides. It’s a truly spectacular song that’s one of the album’s highlights. ‘Shake My Blood’ is reminiscent of their more mainstream moments found on aspects of albums Jupiter and certainly on Antenna and through its vocal delivery and lyrical content you can hear the torn heartstrings snapping and tears fogging the view.
It’s a tough listen at times, informed as it is by extreme emotions born through tragedy. It’s a mellower, tense and low-key effort that you can understand, relate to and appreciate. ‘Night Crawler’ ups the ante, with its staccato drums and chugging guitars that offers a welcome respite from the emotional heft of much of ‘Final Transmission’. The quandary here is to try and separate the emotional birth place of this album from the pure musicality and that’s only right and proper…but you can’t in this instance. The two things are intertwined in such a way that they’re indistinguishable from each other. Suffice to say this is a good album that serves as a worthy musical eulogy to Caleb and his family and friends and whilst the origins of the album are deeply sad and tragic, it serves warning that Cave In are an immensely talented band with much more to give. This may not be their best album but it’s up there and given the back story of its creation that’s remarkable. Long live Cave In.
(7.5/10 Nick Griffiths)