Cave In have been resting in sepulchral silence since their last release, Perfect Pitch Black, in 2005, allowing members to explore personal projects and God knows what else. Bassist Caleb Scofield and Andy McGrath have been cutting a swath across the New Mexico desert as sludge-core outfit Zozobra, and frontman Stephen Brodsky has released two unexpected singer-songwriter type albums for Hydra Head. None of this matters to the devout Cave In fan, however, as they just wanted the band and their brand of celestial hardcore, characterized by the juxtaposition of crushing riffs and spacey progressive melodies, to reconvene. On a sweltering July day in 2009 they did just that to a sold-out crowd at Boston’s Great Scott, playing a set of both new and old material as a prelude to their forthcoming Planets of Old EP.
There are several unwritten rules to a comeback, the first of which is that show set lists must contain a fair proportion of old material relative to the career of the band. Playing new songs is undoubtedly a necessary part of the touring process, but a careful balance must be maintained to keep the crowd from being overwhelmed with new sonic directions they haven’t yet had the chance to assimilate. Smartly, Cave In open the show with a song off their early Creative Eclipses EP, “Luminance”, enthralling the crowd. It’s obvious that the musicians of Cave In have not lost a step as individuals or as parts of the greater whole, as they look perfectly relaxed and at home. Their second song is “Retina Sees Rewind” off the new EP, and it’s met warmly, seeming to take off right were the band left off.
“Moral Eclipse” and “Juggernaut” from their 1997 debut Until Your Heart Stops follow to the crowd’s delight and even open up a small mosh pit. Fans in the front row who fall into the lens of the camera are belting out the lyrics with dramatic vitality as the band moves on to “Dark Driving” off the Tides of Tomorrow EP and two more new songs, the first of which is “Cayman Tongues”. The guitars arc over a heavy bassline as Brodsky and Cofield trade singing and screaming on the microphone, the song ultimately collapsing into a doom-ish stretch of distortion before the finale crashes in to prove they can still rupture eardrums. “The Red Trail” is a fast-paced hardcore jam featuring Andy McGrath on vocals, lending further credence to Cave In’s skull-cracking capacity.
After they play “Trepanning”, Cave In dive into the last song from their latest EP, “Air Escapes”, which is a bit poppier, which is to say more streamlined, than the majority of their catalog and seems to be a continuation of Brodsky’s solo work. The band closes the show with three previously unreleased songs, “Summit Fever”, “Vicious Circles”, and “Inflatable Dream”, respectively, as well as “Big Riff” from their critically acclaimed sophomore album Jupiter. The crowd is yearning and churning as one sweaty gluttonous mass and unite to yell “One more song!” in the hopes of an encore as Cave In all leave the stage one by one, to no avail. The show has been a massive success (Brodsky informs the crowd at one point that this was the fastest selling show Great Scott has ever had) but there is also an air of uncertainty trapped beneath the piping and insulation of the ceiling. No songs from Cave In’s only major label release (RCA) Antenna were played, which was an interesting omission, and the set was a bit short for their first show in five years. What does Cave In have in store for the future?
The question is teasingly left open by both the band and Hydra Head Records, who have wisely packaged the EP with the DVD of the live performance as an appeal to fans and marketability. As a stand-alone release, the four-song EP is agonizingly inept at allaying the desire for more Cave In, the songs barely satiating reminders of the band’s greatness. Pummeling you with multifaceted metal mayhem and a little prog-rock verve, Planets of Old is the kind of recording that punches you in the face to make sure you’re still paying attention. Whether you’re retuning your focus or hearing them for the first time, Cave In demand attention and command respect.
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