Cave In – Perfect Pitch Black

4 out of 5

Produced by: Andrew Schneider

Label: Hydra Head Records

While I arrived at the Hydra Head scene just as some major players were changing gears – Botch had just released their final ‘Anthology…’ EP and Cave In dropped Tides of Tomorrow as their adieu on their way to the majors – I think I did a fair amount of back catalogue research to understand the genesis of things and further define what I liked in my metal.

Cave In wasn’t my first Hydra Head purchase, but as I bought and listened to their prior releases, I was fully aware of their legacy.  But considering their name-drop status alongside other stalwarts like Converge, that legacy seemed odd to me: As soon as Cave In had settled on a lineup and sound with Until Your Heart Stops, they seemed to want to ditch that sound and move on, paving the road to Antenna as soon as their next release, Creative Eclipses.  This isn’t a criticism of that progress.  I think one of the reasons it worked – I like Antenna and really like PPB – is because it wasn’t a sudden shift, and the group came by the sound over several album / EP releases.  However, between Heart and their RCA release, those growing pains didn’t lend themselves to clear solutions.  My retroactive spin being that the group was loathe to ditch their roots but wanted to go Bigger at the same time, with the definition of Bigger being quite murky.  But its clear it wasn’t just louder.  So it got spacier, broader.  And though it was wrought with behind the scenes issues – which resulted in a lingering sense of withholding on the album – Antenna realized the logical endpoint of that desire by going for arena rock.  Brodsky can mention Radiohead all he wants, but the Rich Costey production of that disc and the general structure are made for Radiohead-sized audiences, yes, but cheering for U2-sized bombast. The album was imperfect but more defined, and I have to say that, for that reason, I tend to listen to Cave In releases from before and after the Creative / Jupiter time period way more often.

Thus Cave In’s steady climb to soaring, cheap-seat reaching anthems was apparent even from Heart’s open-ended, wandering passages.  There was no need to have a “sell out” argument; the direction was intentional and I agree with a review Id read at the time that suggested Antennae sounded closer to early Cave In than Jupiter did.

But, perhaps predictably, the album underperformed.  The group had already been working on some heavier material and the lack of sales meant these new songs weren’t finding a home at RCA, so they were brought back into the fold on Hydra Head for the followup to Antenna, Perfect Pitch Black.

Now we’re in a pickle: Dreams fulfilled and then, perhaps, tarnished by the machine-like churn of major label dealings.  PPB wasn’t met with the type of excitement I was expecting (and felt) at the time, because I can only imagine that some long-timers had dismissed the band, new fans weren’t aware that Hydra Head was a thing, and many were just uncertain what the album could possibly sound like.

Firstly, it sounded like the tightest album Cave In had released to date.  No clock-ticking tracks that add ‘atmosphere’ but you admittedly skip to get to the good stuff; no punchy filler to bridge the gap between more sprawling songs.  Secondly, and a little humorously, it sounded like a mash-up of a major label post-hardcore band with a double-bass drum, throat-ripping metal band, which is tonally exactly what it was: The arena rock of Jupiter with bassist Caleb breaking in to scream the choruses.  Then and now it feels like a grimacing apology, delivering the songs to the best of their (very) skilled ability, then OD’ing the hardcore a bit to prove they’re invested.  So you get some silly fuck-off lyrics on Trepanning – which also happens to be one of the hardest and best songs the group has ever written – and the sudden shifts between Brodsky’s wandering, warbling vocals and spacey guitar over sudden, blistering growls on tracks like The World is In Your Way or Droned.  It shouldn’t work – you can see right through the “lets add some hardcore here” patchwork of it – but it does.  It works surprisingly well.  Tempering things the group still offers up some very Antenna-esque jams – Paranoia, Tension – and closes it out with a much smoother synthesis of their styles with the building rock-out of Screaming In Your Sleep.

Beyond Trepanning, Brodsky’s lyrics are as vague and slightly cheesy as always, but that’s been a constant with his writing.  Production wise, Andrew Schneider was a perfect choice for the return, with plenty of hardcore history to capture the album’s heft but a very precise, clear cut style that shows off the focus the group gained on Antennae.

Most of this review is history.  But I do think this is one of those instances where that heavily informs one’s response to the album.  If PPB was your first Cave In experience, it probably sounds pretty straight forward amidst the out-there stuff HHR offers.  Armed with the whole lead-in to the release, though, it sounds like this wholly motivated response to everything that’s come before.  Which makes it a little pre-packaged sounding, but that’s a style Cave-In went through the crucible to earn, and they pull it off with believably sweaty gusto.