As modern hardcore finally comes to that point in its existence in which it can form a general history, no one band aside from, say, Thoughts of Ionesco can boast a stranger, more unpredictable history than that of Cave In. Formed in the Massachusetts suburbs during Clinton’s first term, Cave In started out as the precocious teenage purveyors of the burgeoning metal-infused hardcore sound alongside more seasoned acts like Converge, Deadguy, Cable, Coalesce, Integrity and Starkweather. From the word “go” there was no sludgy riff, no pounding bass line, no melodic paleo-emo bridge they didn’t like-and that was only on their early songs, compiled somewhat haphazardly on Beyond Hypothermia.
Thirteen years after its release, Until Your Heart Stops is an undisputed classic of what general consensus calls “metalcore,” though its imaginative blending of Radiohead and Slayer should be sufficient grounds for induction into the punk rock pantheon of the ages along with Dillinger Escape Plan’s deconstruction of grindcore, Coalesce’s meshing of breakdowns with Am Rep, and Drowningman’s meshing of Black Flag and “Blue Velvet.” Until Your Heart Stops represented to many to be the peak of the genre as well as the band, it seemed as though little could be improved upon. This, however, did not prevent many of those same enthusiasts from expressing their collective revulsion when Cave In, also feeling that they were either unwilling or unable to top UYHS, started playing first what can broadly be called prog-rock on Jupiter. The deviation perpetuated with an art school Foo Fighters phase on their first and only major label album Antenna, a more stripped down return to metal on Perfect Pitch Black, a five-year hiatus with countless side projects, and now White Silence. I think I speak for the majority of both Cave In’s admirers and haters when I ask: what in the name of all that is true and good on this earth can they possibly do now?
Cave In at this point has the advantage not of low expectations, but no expectations. Having exhausted all possible ambitions in modern rock with admirable effort but inconsistent levels of success, Cave In basically had no choice but to reform as if everything from 1995 to 2005 had never happened. They’ve done this on many occasions before, to be sure, but this time seems less voluntary, as if they’ve collectively come out of a coma with only the vaguest memories of who they once were. It’s probably not that dramatic, but the album, though 30 minutes in length — a blink of an eye by Hydra Head standards — nevertheless feels like, nay, is a journey of rediscovery, with all the awkward step-retracing, nervous bursts of emotion, ghostly encounters, and surprise revelations that come with it — but with distortion pedals and shit.
The album is basically divided into a heavy first half and a mellow second half with some overlap. Though “heavy” doesn’t quite do the opening songs justice when “punishing” is far more sufficient. The opening title track kicks off with a King Crimson-esque throwaway riff that very quickly descends into madness with shrieking vocals and echoing, bone-grinding guitars, evoking a feeling of isolation amongst the brute indifference of nature. If such a thing were possible, I imagine this would be the type of music stuck in H.P. Lovecraft’s head as he composed “Dream-Quest of the Unknown Kadath” or “At the Mountains of Madness.” The momentum hardly deteriorates with the pummeling “Serpents” and “Vicious Circles,” two full-scale assaults of hardcore chords, rapid-fire blast beats and bassist Caleb Scofield’s best Sean Ingram impression. The first half gets something of a relief with the melodic but still daunting “Sing My Loves,” already pretty notorious for its rendition of Tears for Fears’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Nevertheless it’s an epic composition that puts a stripped down and in some ways psychedelic twist on Isis-style post-metal.
The remaining four tracks pick up the pieces left in disarray in the years immediately following Antenna, filled with just as loud but far less harsh guitars and soaring vocal melodies. “Summit Fever” is a more matured rendition of Cave In’s past dalliances with arena art rock, bursting with more inviting guitar composition but retaining a fuzzed-out, thudding rhythm foundation. The melody consumes them all the more with the acoustic-based “Heartbreaks, Earthquakes,” and made complete with Stephen Brodsky’s trademark pop lyric mysticism and Scofield’s helicopter propeller bass line.
Realistically, Cave In has achieved what most bands can only hope to achieve in the post-Napster era: longevity, hype, and creative freedom with occasional if not minimal compromise. In short, Cave In could break up tomorrow and still feel the satisfaction of having done a good day’s work several times over. The Cave In of White Silence is a Cave In that’s perfectly content. Cave In certainly has UYHS as a point of pride, and astounding as they may be in playing the most complex riffs, it’s evident that this band was born to fuck around, so to speak.
Coalesce – Ox
Converge – You Fail Me
Botch – We Are the Romans
Stream: Cave In – “Sing My Loves”