3 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head
Produced by: Kurt Ballou, Cave In
Sinner that I am, here is how I often listened to Until Your Heart Stops: my eyes bug out at how perfectly the music steps through elements of thrash, metal, post-hardcore, and punk, in just the ways I want, maintaining the intensities without falling directly into any templates or stereotypes. Meanwhile, Stephen Brodsky’s + Adam McGrath’s yells and howls are right in my aural ballpark, as this was quite a while before I developed an appreciation for different types of hardcore vocals, and Cave In’s existed right on the edge of growly stuff where it still functioned as just “shouty” and angry music and not necessarily unintelligible grumbles or streams of swearing.
Even today, some nearing two decades after I jumped quite late onto the Cave In train, having let my collection of their material get sold off or otherwise disappear, Until Your Heart Stops gives me that exact same rush, and I start looking up prices on their other discs, and feel like I’m rediscovering the band.
This lasts up until about track 4, The End of Our Rope is a Noose, at which point I realize I’m not paying attention to the album anymore. And back in the day, when I would’ve been listening to this on my headphones, on a long train ride, I’m falling asleep. Yeah. Like, every time. Hardcore lullabies.
I’ve acknowledged many times that I’m not a very “smart” music listener, often missing the forest for the trees and not appreciating the impact some recordings might’ve had had I been more immersed in their relative scenes at the time. But UYHS is still acknowledged as a great album, not just a timely one; and yet, to my ears, it’s very… cluttered. It’s a mess of ideas, somewhat at war with one another. And that war negates out all of the rush at some point; the levels flatten out, and my ears get bored. Where reviews talk about expanding horizons, all I can hear is a band who wants to get out of the hardcore scene as quick possible; they can’t wait to get to Jupiter, and Antenna beyond that.
When that nerviness is bundled into something more compact – such as the two opening tracks, Moral Eclipse and Terminal Deity – it’s perfection. There’s a reason these tracks always grab and rattle me. And when they first spread out on the 5+ minute Juggernaut, it’s still mind-boggling stuff, hopping between its metal licks and hardcore chugga chugga with flashes of atmospherics… the tracks never stops moving forward, though, and that’s a distinction. Because it’s on Rope when this tendency starts to become more drift than momentum, and it’s a concept that carries over the rest of the album.
Allowed into some clean vocals on this track, we also get to one of the group’s sticking points for me: as talented of a songwriter and vocally energetic / skilled as he is, Brodsky’s lyrics have never held much weight to my ears. They stray from specifics and aim toward poetry, but in a way that’s never specific or illustrative enough to carry much impact. So neither the yelling or singing feels like it’s actually affecting emotion, so much as just being yelled or sung because that’s what fits for that part of the song.
It’s not that I think Cave In’s members disdained hardcore music – it’s notable that they went back to it in a big way post the rejection of their major label bid, and that a lot of Brodsky’s post Cave In- or side-projects are often more streamlined into one style or another of pop music or metal – rather, it feels like they just wanted to move “beyond” it as quickly as they could, lending UYHS a rather unsettled feeling; a mish-mash that only shapes up into solid, cohesive tracks at particular points. Once it starts running into that sensation about a third of the way though, there’s no turning back, and the flow of the disc never fully recovers. Of course, the other side of this is that that means there are tons of fascinating moments across the disc past its incredible opening run, definitely making it worth staying awake beyond track 4.