If I’m honest it took me a long time to ‘get’ Cave In. I have been enough of a student of musical history to know and appreciate that Stephen Brodsky and company have made a massive impact on the landscape of heavy music. However, for a long time the band never really clicked with me, and my deeper appreciation wasn’t until hearing Brodsky’s Converge collaboration project Mutoid Man that I really fell in love with their endeavours. Which, I acknowledge for someone in my position, is almost a crime. Having shed their so called metalcore roots, created boundary pushing albums with the likes of Jupiter and the often overlooked Pitch Perfect Black, not to mention flirted with commercial acceptability with the opinion dividing Antenna; Cave In remain a band who never quite get the widespread appreciation they deserve (and I see the irony in that sentence giving my opening confession).
Having been on a decade long studio hiatus since the awesome White Silence, band members pursued various external projects, now return with their first new material since the tragic death of band member Caleb Schofield in 2018 and making their Relapse Records debut with their seventh album, if we include Final Transmission. On the surface Heavy Pendulum, comprising of a staggering fourteen tracks shows the bands unrelenting ability to triumph through adversity.
Opening with the high tempo grind of New Reality, the band announce their arrival with a tumbling adrenaline rush that incorporates deft melodies, clean vocals and a harder, gruff edge as Brodsky intones ‘life is moving on’. The deep, pounding drums courtesy of John-Robert Conners hammer a relentless tattoo for the squalling guitar and seismic grooves to twist and turn over.
Continuing with Blood Spiller, the band lurch into a swaying, doom heavy, woozy number. On the surface, the track seems to share a kindred spirit with the shimmering commercial glossy edge play on Antenna, but underneath there is an uneasiness and a paranoia that permeates. One striking observation is that both opening tracks share a degree of sonic affinity with Mutoid Man, not only vocally but stylistically, and wouldn’t seem out of place on their fantastic 2019 album War Moans.
After the breakneck Floating Skulls with its lush surf rock chorus and pop like danceable refrains, the band slip into the heavy, slow burning, ballad like, title track Heavy Pendulum. The rich tone captured expertly by Kurt Ballou (Converge) is crystal clear as the band create a powerful part southern rock, part epic metallic sing along. Once again, the lyrics seem to look back and keep moving forward with the likes of ‘if we could do it all again, we would be stronger in our ways’ and ‘the weight is all we know’, channelling both introspection and will to continue.
Pausing briefly for the bridge of Pendulambient, the band are back to the split personality of creating light and driving rock with Careless Offering, before they break down into the crushing heavy bull roar of the second half to finish. Walking the line between bright sounding light pop and a callback to late ‘90s savagery, Cave In prove that they’re at their best when creating music that can throw you through the loop.
a gleeful disregard for the rules that allow them to stand toe to toe with the heaviest of bands and the most dazzling of tech metal bands…
Smouldering in the heart of the album is the brooding Blinded By A Blaze, which might be my favourite track of theirs since Big Riff from Jupiter, with its haunting, atmospheric and downbeat spine-tingling progression. Converge man (also handling backing vocals with Adam McGrath) Nate Newton’s bass thickly underlays the nightmarish, sinister guitar and the lilting vocals. After this epic journey, it’s a revelation to find yourself only halfway through the album.
Amaranthine starts off at a snarling metalcore pace that’s somehow transcended by the clean vocals once more as Cave In show the songwriting skills that saw them to be even considered by a major label, but simultaneously displaying a gleeful disregard for the rules that allow them to stand toe to toe with the heaviest of bands and the most dazzling of tech metal bands.
Like previous albums, the band stand out when they’re flexing their considerable songwriting chops without having to compromise their raw power or their refusal to re-tread the same ground. Heavy Pendulum walks the line between grunge, metal, classic rock and sparkling indie pop. It is both easy to see why they could have made the mainstream transition with the much maligned Antenna, but a blessing for those who love the visceral, dark side of the band that rears its ugly head. As ever, with enviable skill the band handle the complexities with poise and grace, making this album seamlessly move between moods.
Nightmare Eyes and Waiting For Love keep up the flirtation with darkness and recall Alice In Chain’s ability to craft heavy, beautiful songs that also sound utterly terrifying and sandwich the near two minute instrumental interlude Days Of Nothing. The penultimate track Reckoning, a song about digesting huge loss and forging paths into unknown futures, and written entirely by Adam McGrath, is an acoustic heavy MOR track that is worth way more than the sum of its parts, before the band close with the towering Wavering Angel.
Here Cave In go for their Led Zeppelin moment and there are motifs that hint at Stairway To Heaven and the plaintive questioning ‘Have you ever loved somebody too much?’ lyric shows the band, after all the bombast of earlier, a vulnerability as they ramp up towards a head banging worthy conclusion.
Originally 2019’s Final Transmission, the collection of songs reworked from scraps of recordings made with Scofield was to be the last output from the band. Thankfully, and healthily for the grieving process, and for music fans alike, Cave In have decided to endure and to continue the departed bassist’s last mission statement of focusing on ‘the spacier, heavier elements of the band‘ by honing in on what sets them apart from their contemporaries.
It may be too early to claim Heavy Pendulum is their best album to date, but it might just be my favourite thing Cave In have released.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden