Rock Album Review: Cave In’s “Heavy Pendulum” — Covering the Battlefield from Both Sides

By Scott McLennan

Cave In’s new album is more than a return to form — it is a surging breakthrough.

Surging with urgency that finds cathartic release, Heavy Pendulum sounds like a record that Cave In not only wanted to make but needed to make. This being Cave In, the new album is also thoughtful and intelligent. And heavy. Very, very heavy.

Which is all good news for those who felt 2019’s Final Transmission wasn’t exactly a satisfying finale for this band.

It is understandable why Cave In billed Final Transmission as its farewell. Early on in the making of that record, founding member Caleb Scofield died in a car accident. Cave In’s remaining members — guitarists Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath and drummer John-Robert Conners — brought in their friend Nate Newton, bassist for Converge, to complete the record as a tribute to Scofield.

This lineup with Newton performed a few shows to benefit Scofield’s family. Apparently the shows also generated creative sparks, leading to a batch of new material that feels very much like a fresh start along a familiar path.

Since the 1998 arrival of the brilliant Until Your Heart Stops, Cave In has been an influential force in the world of alternative heavy music. The band masterfully navigates the maelstroms of hardcore and metal, sacrificing neither intelligence nor brawn. And Cave In is equally comfortable with importing progressive approaches into the writing and arranging of its songs.

For Heavy Pendulum, Cave In worked with the innovative producer (and Converge guitarist—you seeing the threads here?) Kurt Ballou, who, not coincidentally, produced Until Your Heart Stops.

The end result is not just a return to form but a surging breakthrough. The record kicks off with “New Reality,” a jagged roar of a song that invokes Scofield and the tragedy that claimed his life. Cave In expertly maneuvers the song from focusing on personal anguish to making broader assessment of a global landscape forever altered by health and political crises. It is as if Cave In is saying (with my own apologies to Bob Dylan here): Everybody must get rocked.

That’s not to say Heavy Pendulum is an overtly political record; no Cave In record has ever had a single theme, and the band doesn’t start here.

“Blood Spiller” and “Floating Skulls” are straight up horror-infused thrashers. And the album’s title track is a sludgy lament; “Careless Offering” is a wiry frenzy.

After that run of tightly crafted and relatively taut pieces, Cave In plunges the listener into “Blinded By a Blaze.” This is a slow-build psychedelic sprawl of guitar grind, rhythmic churn, and two short verses of meditative lyrics.

The spiritual thread carries over to “Amaranthine,” except the music is ratcheted back up to hardcore ferocity. The tune’s lyrics about everlasting life were written by Scofield. They were found in a notebook of his song ideas. The band has turned these jottings into an eerie and elegant tribute to its fallen bandmate.

Cave In’s new album is a surging breakthrough. Photo: Jay Zucco.

“Nightmare Eyes” is swampy sounding, full of grim images and encroaching darkness. Many metal songs depict battle carnage from the conqueror’s perspective; here Cave In here seems to be viewing the mayhem through the eyes of the vanquished.

The recording’s end run takes more sonic detours, starting with the melodic heaviness of “Waiting for Love.” “Reckoning” swirls and builds like a gathering twister, its acoustic guitars (and minimal bombast) generating as much menace as anything else on Heavy Pendulum.

The album winds-up with “Wavering Angel,” a 12-minute opus that drives home the album’s message: a pendulum swings between two poles that are not necessarily contradictory but rather countervailing perspectives. Sometimes we’re the floating skulls dancing in the wind; sometimes we’re the severed heads rolling into a black hole. On Heavy Pendulum, Cave In covers the entire battlefield.

Cave In is performing July 21 at Fete Music Hall in Providence.

Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.


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