To an extent, it feels like Cave In needed to release an album like this. On the most surface level, it’s been eight years since White Silence dropped, and given how much they epitomise the image of a band grinding their way through the underground for an unwaveringly passionate fanbase, it feels more than necessary at this point. But going deeper than that, Final Transmission is something of a process of closure, emerging from final sessions recorded with bassist Caleb Scofield before his tragic passing in a car accident last year. As much as some have speculated that Final Transmission carries the double meaning of heralding Cave In’s bowing out following such circumstances (and honestly, no one would really blame them if they did), there’s a resilience to them pressing on in the face of such a loss, and an album like this has the possibility to show their progressive tendencies morphing into a celebration of their bandmate’s life instead of a sombre final note.
Of course, there’s no reason it can’t be both. It’s not like Cave In have ever been that straightforward, and while there’s definitely a certain beauty to Final Transmission, it’s the sort of raw, deliberately unrefined album that the context surrounding it demands. After all, this is very much still haunted by Scofield’s presence; the opening title track is his unfinished idea for a guitar line, while both his musical contributions and lyrics taken from his diary entries form such a crucial part of this album. Wrapped within the oppressive, warping gloom that’s embedded with even more bleakness and heaviness than usual, Final Transmission feels like an ending, but one that ultimately doesn’t come with an easy close. But really, it shouldn’t, and the way that Cave In present that has an unease that makes it hit all the harder.
As is often the case with albums like this though, that gravitation is usually a factor of the discomfort within it rather than creative intent, which, to be brutally honest, can feel a bit lacking. It’s easy to tell how this was a pieced-together project in its very rickety, ragged presentation, particularly in Stephen Brodsky’s vocals, and a spare but oblique lyrical style might foster the ominous mood but does little beyond that. And yet, fostering a mood is, at the end of the day, Final Transmission’s primary intent, and Cave In can pull it off truly well. Tracks like Night Crawler and Lunar Day already lean into the heady distortion that’s intrinsic within noise-rock, but the void feels wider than normal, particularly with Scofield’s bass tone that’s always prominent within the mix. There’s consistent darkness in a way that isn’t always appealing, but it’s necessary, and that’s something that Cave In double down on whenever they can. The nuances of this album always feel tied to that, never making themselves explicitly known but worming around in the murk to make their presence always known, and taking a final plunge with the lo-fi clatter of the closer Led To The Wolves. Among that though, there are moments where Cave In can struggle to keep the retention high, something that can especially disorienting for an album that’s both as short and densely packed as this one is, but that’s ultimately the point, and Cave In do enough with to with it to succeed.
And as such, this certainly won’t be an album for everyone, or perhaps not even for anyone outside of the Cave In fanbase by any great distance. This feels like an album designed to resonate there over everywhere else, and from what it brings to the table, that’s exactly what it’s going to do. The flaws are open, but they’re meant to be, and the realism that it runs on becomes its standout feature, especially when viewed as a connection to Scofield’s life and legacy. If this was to be the album that Cave In call it a day on, it would probably feel appropriate; there’s finality and uncertainty here, and while it’s not always presented in the easiest or most pleasant way to grasp, simply watching it evolve is fascinating in its own right.
For fans of: Failure, Far, Deftones
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Final Transmission’ by Cave In is out now on Hydra Head Records.