By now, Cave In followers have either turned their backs on their ex-favorite band or embraced its launch into modern-rock orbit. Understandably, the band’s sudden transformation on 2000’s Jupiter from Boston metal-core heroes to spacey rock melodicists had some devotees worrying. And although their 2003 RCA debut, Antenna, was better than your average major-label album, it didn’t feel like a Cave In record. The innovative metal riffing and hardcore vocals were completely gone, and with them went a lot of Cave In’s original fan base.
On paper, Cave In’s fifth LP, Perfect Pitch Black has all the makings of a return to form: It was released by indie-metal label Hydra Head, the band toured with metal-core heavyweights Converge in between recording sessions, and several tracks bring back those comforting growled vocals. But the album is less a comeback than a case of a new dog re-learning old tricks. Every time bassist Caleb Scofield’s ruthless snarl announces “Honey, we’re home,” the reunion is quickly cut short by Stephen Brodsky’s helium-treated clean vocals. “Trepanning” is entry-level metal, with a Down-style boogie that’s dirtier than anything on Antenna but a pale shadow of the band’s earlier material. And every song on Until Your Heart Stops crammed in ten riffs better than the one that girds “Ataraxia,” which is pretty inexcusable considering it’s an instrumental.
There’s nothing wrong with a band fusing the disparate elements of its sound, as long as something cohesive emerges. Cave In manages the task brilliantly on “Off to Ruin,” a slithery guitar waltz that manages to be both sexy and foreboding. But elsewhere, the band wastes no effort on hiding the seams between old and new — “The World Is in Your Way” and “Paranormal” simply alternate between melodic sections and heavier guitar slams, sounding like compromises rather than integrations. Since all four heavy songs appear at the beginning of the record, even the track order seems artificially segregated.
If Perfect Pitch Black doesn’t bring back the art-metal of yore, it does make a case for Cave In as an artful modern-rock band. ”Tension in the Ranks” is the kind of glorious space-rock that we haven’t heard done so well since The Bends-era Radiohead, complete with a climactic Jonny Greenwood solo to cap it off. And the band’s avowed Failure obsession shines through on “Droned,” a tune that finds Cave In as radio-ready as it’ll ever be. Maybe that doesn’t sound so promising to fans who miss the old days, but they’ll just have to deal. By teasing us with heavy moments but refusing to let them dominate like they used to, Perfect Pitch Black proves, once and for all, that Cave In has moved on.