Scofield’s passing looms heavily over Cave In on glorious cosmic rock burst ‘Final Transmission’

To say that a record is tough to listen to usually means the music isn’t any good or the production is poor or something along those lines. You typically don’t say that about a powerful album, one that contains some of a band’s most reflective, thought-provoking work in a long time, but then again, most of those records aren’t Cave In’s tragic new album “Final Transmission.”

Maybe calling it tragic isn’t quite the right descriptor. But considering this album features the final work of bassist Caleb Scofield, who was killed in an auto accident last March before the band could formally record the music they had prepared for “Final Transmission,” it can be fitting. His death sent the band into a spiral, as it also heavily affected members of his other band Old Man Gloom, which pretty much is a given. It was utterly devastating, and if you get a copy of the new issue of Decibel, they do an incredible cover story on Scofield that is one of the best pieces that magazine ever has done. Those involved with the band and Scofield’s circle of friends talk about how hard it is to hear the nine tracks that comprise their sixth record (which is made up of the demos they had recorded, which sound pretty damn good) because Scofield’s presence is so heavily felt. But it’s also a triumph of an album in a way, a deeper push into their space rock tendencies with a few kernels from the “Until Your Heart Stops” and “Jupiter” eras along the way. The rest of the band—guitarist/vocalist Stephen Brodsky, guitarist Adam McGrath, and drummer J.R. Conners—has expressed that the direction and voice of the album is very much Scofield’s, and to see it through is a way to give him and his fans one final time together. Also, half the proceeds of the record will go toward Scofield’s family.

The opening title track is a heartbreaker, comprised of a skeleton of a song Scofield had sent to the band, played on acoustic guitar. It’s naked and driving, with his hums interrupting and utterly haunting the flow. Then we’re into “All Illusion” that opens into a mid-tempo rocker, with Brodsky’s steady, strong voice leading the way with the chorus lapping over like a warm wave of water with the jarring call of, “What doesn’t kill me may survive.” “Shake My Blood” has a cool riff, a spacious aura, and Brodsky calling, “No one leave, no one leave to say goodbye.” The pace is weird and tempered, which chills the flesh, while the powerful chorus comes back around before the song dissolves into noise. “Night Crawler” gets heavier and burlier with the bass chugging, the tempo trampling, and the band thrashing away, with the music finally soaring off into the sky.

“Lunar Day” is a quick one with noise rushing and drenching the song, static burying the light, and ringing smearing, leading into “Winter Window” that is one of the strongest songs on the record. Guitars come to life as Brodsky’s voice pushes higher as he wails, “Oh, sweet nausea, moving slow.” The track takes on doomy, oily thickness later, bringing the song to a pummeling finish. “Lanterna” starts with Brodsky calling, “Eternal light is her name,” as muscular riffs flex, and the track begins to speed up, blasting its way into deep space. “Lost on my own, only see monochrome,” Brodsky observes, while cosmic riffs continue their ascent, and the song disappears in the clouds. “Strange Reflection” has darkness falling and the riffs playing in the shadows, as the singing pulls the ropes, and the chorus flows. “Someone took me to the dance of dead souls,” Brodsky sings while the song picks up and then disintegrates. “Led to the Wolves” closes the 31-minute album by bringing sweltering heaviness, metallic chaos, and vocals that pour swarms of hornets onto an angry blaze. Brodsky sings of seeing “fire in their eyes” as the track convulses in madness and then comes to a devastating end.

Losing Caleb Scofield dealt a massive blow to the heavy music world, to Cave in, to Old Man Gloom, to his wife and children, and the world is lesser without him. That’s what makes “Final Transmission” so tough to tackle, because his presence is so overwhelming and involved. Given time, this record likely will be remembered as another daring turn for Cave In, and valuable and emotional collection that captured the last bursts of an amazing musician.

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