Cave In – ‘Final Transmission’

By James Lee

The last decade has not been a fruitful one for fans of Boston’s premiere hardcore-space-prog luminaries Cave In. Though the band’s members have engaged themselves in a number of high profile side-projects (Mutoid Man, Wear Your Wounds, Old Man Gloom, Zozobra, etc), the number of live shows Cave In have played could be easily counted on your hands with fingers to spare, and 8 long years have passed since the quartet’s last official studio release, 2011’s scruffy masterpiece ‘White Silence’.

Many assumed that this would likely be the last album we would ever get from the legendary band, and so it came as something of a shock when, in early 2018, the band began teasing some kind of studio activity, hinting that a new album was on the horizon. This was joyous news, as Cave In’s musical voice was always unique and highly revered among those in the know, so confirmation that the band would be putting new music out into the world was a very big deal.

Sadly, before any further information came forth regarding these mysterious recording sessions, the band – and the music scene at large – was struck the most tragic of blows. On March 28th 2018 – mere weeks after the band’s social media teasing – Caleb Scofield, Cave In’s bassist and also a prominent member of Old Man Gloom and mastermind behind Zozobra, was tragically killed in a devastating automobile accident in New Hampshire. The incident sent crashing waves of grief and sorrow through the heavy music world, Scofield having been such a beloved musician and friend to so many. It was easy to assume that, considering how inactive Cave In had been for many years, this would spell the end of the band, and understandably so.

Miraculously, however, the opposite seemed to be true. Rather than treat Caleb’s passing as a full-stop, Cave In’s spark was suddenly reignited in honour of their lost brother. It began with a moving acoustic set from Steve Brodsky and Adam McGrath at 2018’s Roadburn Festival, followed by a pair of legendary tribute concerts in Boston and Los Angeles, where the band were joined by a plethora of stunning acts (Converge, Old Man Gloom, Pelican, and even a reunited Isis, who understandably performed under a less contentious name, ‘Celestial’), to provide two nights of cathartic release for fans and themselves alike.

Before 2018 was over, a run of European dates was confirmed for spring 2019, marking the first time Cave In would play the UK in almost 13 years. As too-good-to-be-true as this seemed, the band still had another monumental trick left up their sleeve. Just a matter of days before the Euro tour, a brand new Cave In song, ‘All Illusion’, appeared online, and with it, confirmation that the band would be releasing a new album, ‘Final Transmission’, a couple of months later. The band spoke to the press in the intervening weeks, confirming that the album would feature the final recorded performances from Caleb Scofield, and that what we would be hearing was essentially demos that the band never had the chance to refine or even record in a full studio environment, but rather than them trying to ‘finish’ the songs after the fact, Cave In chose to release them as recorded with Caleb, albeit with a little polish from mixer Andrew Schneider and mastering legend James Plotkin.

The resulting album is difficult to pick apart objectively, because the knowledge of what it is and how it came to be looms large over the entire thing. Cave In as a band are well known for reshaping songs hugely from the demo stage to what appears on the final release, so it’s hard not to wonder what album we might have got had Caleb still been around. However, that’s not a guessing game we will win, so instead we must look at what we actually have. Thankfully, though a little rough around the edges at times, ‘Final Transmission’ is a totally worthy addition to Cave In’s catalogue, and offers some of the band’s most rewarding moments to date.

The opening track, ‘Final Transmission’, is literally that – a modest acoustic demo that Caleb sent to his bandmates days before his fatal accident, and was the last music he ever recorded. It’s a heart-wrenching listen, but also beautiful in its simplicity, setting the tone for the record wonderfully. Next is ‘All Illusion’, Caleb’s only lyrical contribution and the track with which the band chose to introduce the album to the world, and it’s very easy to understand why. This is Cave In at their full ‘Jupiter’-era powers, a side of the band’s sound we’ve heard very little of in quite some time – soaring, shimmering guitars soaked in their trademark space echo glide over gloriously deployed drum rolls courtesy of JR Connors, one of the rock world’s most underrated drummers. It’s all pinned together with a strong and stirring bassline that recalls some of Scofield’s finest work, with it all crashing together for a stirring and epic finale of dueling harmonies battling to reach the upper stratosphere.

‘Shake My Blood’, the second single to be released, also feels like it could have been pulled from ‘Jupiter’, its luscious riffs bearing more than a passing resemblance to ‘Innuendo And Out The Other’, though this is more than a self-referential pastiche. There’s an almost haunting quality about the track, though rather than coming across as sinister, it instead feels familiar and inviting like and old friend, particularly in its anthemic final chorus. ‘Night Crawler’ is a little more aggressive than the last two songs, though like most of the album it never hits the same level of raw fury that tracks like ‘Serpents’ or ‘Vicious Circles’ did on ‘White Silence’. Almost the entirety of ‘Final Transmission’ feels more reflective and subdued than the past couple of Cave In releases, which in retrospect gives it a poignancy that the band themselves couldn’t have predicted at the time they were writing it. Only on the final track, ‘Led To The Wolves’, do we get that abrasive storm of riffs that Caleb brought to the band, and it’s certainly the moment on the album his presence is most felt, particularly in its messy outro, which is the only hint of his thunderous roar we get on ‘Final Transmission’.

On the whole, this album feels more cohesive than its immediate predecessor; whereas the ‘White Silence’ tracklist was easy to pick apart as being ‘Steve song’, ‘Caleb Song’, ‘Adam song’, ‘Final Transmission’ is almost entirely made up of ‘Cave In songs’. Only ‘Lunar Day’ feels like the kind of track that would usually be reserved for one of Brodsky’s solo outings, though its inclusion here still makes sense. Elsewhere, cuts like ‘Winter Window’ and ‘Lanterna’ come across as a wonderful amalgamation of the best parts of the band’s ouvre. ‘Winter Window’ in particular could easily become a fan-favourite and deserves to be a live staple should the band decide to continue to tour beyond 2019, its main riff being one of the strongest the band have ever produced.

‘Final Transmission’ is a record that many never thought would exist, and though the circumstances of its creation are tragic, the world is a better place for having these songs in it. It’s almost impossible to consider the pain that Brodsky, Connors and McGrath must have felt at every stage of putting this album together – from making the initial decision that these songs should be released at all, to the process of actually sculpting the record from rough four-track demos, all while being reminded that the bass and guitar tracks left by Caleb were his final gift to the world. They definitely were gifts though, and ‘Final Transmission’ is a thoroughly rewarding experience, sonically and emotionally. It’s as fitting an epitaph as could have been crafted to a wonderful musician and human being, and though we have to hope it isn’t Cave In’s own final transmission, if that ends up being the case it will be a fine swan song for one of the greatest rock bands of the last 20+ years. RIP Caleb.

JAMES LEE

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