Cave In Honor Their Fallen Comrade with Final Transmission

  • Jeff Treppel

It’s tough to look critically at an album that happened the way this did. The untimely demise of bassist Caleb Scofield last spring in a tragic car accident left the rest of the band to pick up the song fragments he’d left behind and turn the last works of their spiritual brother into a cohesive album. It’s unclear how much of Final Transmission was in the bag when Scofield passed. At only half an hour long, it feels incomplete — the clearly planned to have more songs, and a key piece of the band’s chemistry is missing. Still, what’s there offers a fitting tribute to one of post-hardcore’s most beloved and influential figures.

The first thing you hear on the album is a gently plucked guitar riff and wordless singing — the final musical sketch from Scofield. It’s genuinely haunting, especially considering the pastoral, relaxed nature of the recording. They follow that immediately with the gently thunderous Scofield composition, “All Illusion.” It’s not until “Shake My Blood” that Steve Brodsky, Adam McGrath, and J.R. Conners get to bear their souls — and it’s an effective, plaintive refrain of “Don’t leave.” It hits hard. Strangely, the most notable aspect of these songs is an absence: Scofield’s screams. Without that punctuation to relieve the mood, a melancholy atmosphere pervades.

Weirdly, that makes this their least jagged album to date — maybe even more so than 2003 alt-rock experiment Antenna. They do bring some fury on tracks like “Winter Window” and “Night Crawler,” but for the most part it all blends together into a haze of gray grief. It’s not until closing tune “Led to the Wolves” that they let out the amplifier destruction they excel at. That’s the biggest problem with this release. As heartfelt and personal as it feels, it’s an ephemeral listen. Almost deliberately so.

That brings us back to the beginning of the piece and that feeling of incompleteness.  There should be more here. More songs, more fleshed-out pieces, more to bring the promise of these wonderful songs to fruition. But there never will be. Scofield is gone. This is what we have left: a collection of demos turned into beautiful, crystallized odes to a friend and collaborator gone too soon. It’s impossible to separate the tragedy of the album’s existence and the quality of the music within. That which makes it frustrating also makes it special.

Cave In’s Final Transmission is available now from Hydra Head. Listen to “All Illusion” here. Order the album here.

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