Review Summary: Cave In sing their loves.
I've always gone to metalcore like an adrenaline junkie chasing a rush. Nothing beats the thrill when a band shies away from the generic half-time breakdown to deliver something uniquely crushing instead. Or when they truly click as a family, with that lived-in ease that only comes from writing, sweating and breathing stale tour bus air with four other people for a lifetime. Most appreciably of all, for me, is when a band evolves from their initial sound into something you never imagined they could be. That's where Cave In comes in, hardly still a metalcore band, orbiting their original style since Creative Eclipses
and yet still within contact range, receiving transmissions from their old selves which bleed through onto the tapes now and then, notably on 2009's Planets of Old
and 2011's White Silence
Of course, you can't think of Cave In's heavier side without Caleb Scofield's iconic throaty growl coming to mind. His voice always had the power to instantly transport the listener back to the mid-90s scene, to the off-kilter mathcore influences, noise rock crescendos and filthy rhythm sections that Cave In helped to pioneer. There's regrettably less of those vocals here than one would like, especially in comparison to White Silence
, where he dominated an unrelenting four-song opening stretch that rivals the best music Cave In ever made. Still, it's only appropriate that Final Transmission
is bookended by Caleb's voice, these moments in themselves a perfect encapsulation of this multifaceted band. On "Final Transmission" he's a wordless voice over acoustic guitar, intimate and uncomfortably close; on "Led to the Wolves" his vicious screaming self, mixed low and distorted as if coming from a distance the listener can't bridge. It's a pulse-pounding conclusion to a low-key album that's really the only way it could have ended. Not that Final Transmission
is here to languish or wallow: the straightforwardness of "Strange Reflection" and "Led to the Wolves" suggests a back-to-basics album, even rawer and dirtier than White Silence
's first act, whereas the furious "Night Crawler" decaying into the downright creepy noise rock "Lunar Day" is some of the weirdest Cave In since Jupiter
. These halves meet in "Lanterna", a late-album highlight which builds and builds to a furious roar just to halt momentum entirely, dropping into a tense post-rock guitar figure that takes up the final minute.
Even with an eight-year gap between, it's easy to think of Final Transmission
as a sister album to White Silence
. The facts of each album's creation are remarkably similar, down to being nine-song hitters largely recorded in practice spaces rather than a recording studio proper. The difference, of course, is that Final Transmission
is short and raw by necessity rather than choice.
Caleb Scofield's death is the kind of split-second, unforeseeable tragedy that reminds you of the randomness of life and death. One glance at social media will show the deep wounds this man's loss carved into the people of every scene he had contact with, from bandmates in Converge and Old Man Gloom to bands who sprung up in Until Your Heart Stops
' wake and were left in the dust as Cave In took off into the stratosphere. Still, though, it was metalcore that had claim to Scofield's roots. It seemed he was the one pushing for the band to keep one foot grounded in their past while the other meandered to new vistas – as Stephen Brodsky said of this album's creation, "[Caleb] was really digging the stuff that was spacey, heavy, a little bit weird, but with very pretty melodies and hooks".
's somewhat unique (to this writer's knowledge) hook is that it has the opportunity to reflect on the passing of a member, while still bringing into existence the last music he wrote and played with them. The often first-take chemistry of the band is as remarkable as their unknowing is heartbreaking. The aforementioned tracks are tragically informed by opening duo "All Illusion" and "Shake My Blood", the former with lyrics written by Scofield and the latter a direct response by the band to the aftermath of his death. "All Illusion" centres on a heart-rending "what doesn't kill me may survive" lyric and has a tricky, sneaking melody that recalls the terrific Tides of Tomorrow
EP, itself heavily co-written by Scofield. Meanwhile, "Shake My Blood" is a moving tribute to togetherness in times of tragedy which doubles as a sheer reminder of Cave In's pure ability, vocal and instrumental. All three remaining members harmonise on a lyric about looking to the future, Caleb's inimitable guitarwork grounding them as they go. And it's haunting hearing him play rhythm section to three other men mourning his passing.
The song advocates perseverance in times of tragedy, resolving to remember but not to dwell. It's good advice, and hard come by. But the sense of little resolution, even of anti-climax is unavoidable in Final Transmission
, because that's how life works. There's no real lesson to be learned from something like this, bar the lessons we teach ourselves afterwards on how to keep going and to appreciate life while we have it, lessons we keep teaching ourselves for the rest of our lives. Other than those small comforts there's no big meaning to be found in this. The band plays on for 31 minutes, blissfully unaware: you couldn't find a more apt metaphor for life if you tried. You spin the album again, looking for closure on a life or even just a theme, something to anchor the feelings onto. You don't find it, but something far better comes instead: the visceral enjoyment of an adrenaline rush shared between band and listener, that selfsame lived-in chemistry that comes from years spent together. You find some comfort there instead, and start chasing the next peak.
R.I.P. Caleb Scofield, 1978-2018.