When Cave In’s metalcore assault of Beyond Hypothermia dropped in 1998, I’m quite positive that the absolute last place this Boston quartet envisioned themselves at in five years was aside Christina Aguilera on RCA Records. But here we are in 2003: Cave In have traded their fits of metallic rage in for their bid at radio-rock disposability. In case you’ve missed a step in Cave In’s bipolar musical (d)evolution, let me rewind.
Initiating a five year time bomb that will eventually explode when Antenna exposes its major label skin in March of 2003, Cave In began hacking their abrasive, hardcore-riddled sound through the Boston underground in the mid-’90s. Eventually capturing the ear of the metal prodigies at Hydra Head Records, Cave In exorcised bone-breaking, yet articulate, sounds from the metal and hardcore subgenres with violent results as heard on the aforementioned full-length, Beyond Hypothermia. But, as the creative undertow swept the core members of Cave In away on an arty, progressive whim, 2000’s Jupiter was a shocking departure. Disfiguring the body of Beyond Hypothermia by tearing its metalcore appendages apart and salvaging its intellectual body, Cave In pieced its newly found sound back together with stitches of ethereal space and prog-rock tendencies. Subsequently, they were heralded as the band whose axis of sound was at the intersection of Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and Failure.
But after the spellbinding atmospheres of prog-space-rock that Jupiter explored, Cave In were locked in the sights of major label crosshairs. And Antenna, an overproduced soundtrack of indie rock maestros-cum-major label sweethearts, is its tepid result. Although Stephen Brodsky, vocalist/guitarist of Cave In, peppers their press release with such indie empowerment maxims as “We deliberately wanted to do this as a challenge to ourselves” and “I wanted to take the biggest advantage of the time and the money,” Antenna is undeniably the latest product of major label conformity.
In fact, Antenna is lacking in every sonic department they previously thrived upon and sounds exactly what fans of old feared: immaculate, sterile guitar production; rigid, radio-ready song structures; and an end to the dynamic, cosmos-exploring sound that elevated Jupiter to a stunning success. The evidence is in every track of the dozen that find their way onto Cave In’s major label debut: all twelve songs are buffed and chiseled to a buff radio-rock luster so devoid of Beyond Hypothermia‘s prog-metal and Jupiter’s space-rock that each could pass as a bona-fide, typical major label single.
However, marred as it may be, Antenna at least attempts to filter in Cave In’s indie rock ideals of the past. Shades of My Bloody Valentine’s beautiful feedback paintings try to surface on “Joy Opposites” before being drowned in Clear Channel-type rock. “Seafrost” resides as a relic to their epic rock history, but fails to resurrect even a glimmer of hope, while somber acoustics attempt to rouse sensitivity and flood emotion on “Beautiful Son”. But this simply isn’t enough — Cave In have either artistically lost their edge, or are the latest major label casualty. Either way, RCA has gained another commercially conformed rock act and we have one less hope at major label justice.
Antenna buries Cave In’s expanses of space, burns their previous prog-rock adventures and abandons their innate sense to carve epic rock songs from a few guitars and a drum. It’s wasted potential, a wasted gift of rock majesty, a wasted opportunity to expand the strict major label budget and produce a triumphant indie rock gem. Antenna could have been many things that it wasn’t. But ultimately, Antenna is a eulogy.