The death of Caleb Scofield in 2018 could have ended Cave In, but they honoured their late bassist by mixing and mastering their last demos with him for 2019’s acclaimed, Final Transmission. As a former bassist of Converge, it’s ironic that front man, Stephen Brodsky, should bring in Converge’s current four-stringer, Nate Newton, to fill Scofield’s shoes for album number seven. The band were unsure if they should continue at the beginning of 2020, which makes their latest 70-minute effort even more compelling. Cave In used their time during the Covid lockdown to reappraise what they are and who they want to be. The answer on Heavy Pendulum lies somewhere between stoner metal and psychedelic space rock with few traces of their post-hardcore or metalcore roots.
The fact that some people still care about Cave In’s musical heritage speaks volumes of their relevance in contemporary rock and hardcore. Those that abandoned them after their major label flirtation with alternative rock on 2003’s controversial Antenna album might wonder if they’re back in the same no man’s land. They should have no concerns when they hear the grungy thrash riffing of opener, ‘New Reality’, although those too young to experience Cave In’s commercial heyday might ask what all the fuss is about. This is what Foo Fighters would sound like if they renounced radio rock and turned up their fuzz pedals. You say the words with a scowl: “Rock music?” Do you remember when this still meant something? The sludgy rhythm guitar and noisy melodic arpeggios of ‘Blood Spiller’ will remind you of the early 2000s, when rock was edgy and still of interest to hardcore musicians. Those backing screams were the definition of extreme in 2001, but now they recall the best offerings of a dad rock unit showing the kids that the George W. Bush generation were not the wimps you thought them to be.
Heavy Pendulum is a strange comeback album. The stoner metal elements will cause the biggest gasps among the Cave In fanbase and will alienate those that still see them as a hardcore band. Brodsky’s strong voice command in the chorus of ‘Floating Skulls’ will distract you from the Red Fang influence running through this record. Do rock bands still write music like the title track? This is what Soundgarden’s tentative 2017 album might have sounded like if Chris Cornell was still here. The grungy dynamics and hallucinogenic chord progressions recall a time when musicians could play heavy rock music like punks and encrypt their lyrics in the ambiguity of the existential self. In 2022, it seems less exhilarating but still invigorating enough to fork out for a Cave In concert ticket. Listen to the Fu Manchu-meets-prog rock of ‘Careless Offering’. You’ll raise an eyebrow for the metallic hardcore posturing of its fuzzy climax. Why does it feel like an anachronism you can admire?
Brodsky’s vocal performance on Heavy Pendulum reminds you that rock can be heavy without the vitriolic screams of hardcore or the muscular growls of metal. His head voice balances the nasal snarl with an impressive melodic ear, like a 1960s rock singer who knows he’ll always be heard above the PA system. Only ‘Amaranthine’ slips into a doomed attempt at rekindling the band’s testosterone past. We might be talking about a shot in the arm for modern rock music if they ended the album at track ten.
Seventy minutes of heavy psychedelic rock filtered through sludgy amp settings will delight the stoner crowd and should receive appreciative gestures from the aging grunge custodians. Cave In are now practitioners of the type of music their hardcore youth ignored, yet they do it in style. Who cares if the twelve minutes of ‘Wavering Angel’ resemble a noisy attempt at a ‘Stairway to Heaven’? Their sabotage instincts never fail them when they seem poised to breakthrough into the anathema of radio rock comfort. ‘Nightmare Eyes’ is a case in point – this could be a radio favourite if not for the greasy guitar noise and rumbling bass overdrive.
These days, Cave In are happy to fall into the loose umbrella term of rock, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Heavy Pendulum is ambitious and experimental without falling into the trap of self-indulgence. Even the hardcore crowd can get behind this album. It’s not exactly pop music, is it?
Release Date: 20/05/2022
Record Label: Relapse Records
Standout tracks: Blood Spiller, Heavy Pendulum, Blinded by a Blaze
Suggested Further Listening: Kylesa – Static Tensions (2009), Soundgarden – Superunknown (1994), Red Fang – Whales and Leeches (2013)