1. CAVE IN, “Heavy Pendulum” (Relapse Records)

I don’t take naming a top record of the year lightly at all. I’m no one, really. So, this is not an ego thing. I just take very seriously the record I name my favorite of the year because I’m honored to hear so many albums every calendar year, that saying one of them moved me the most means a lot. In this case, it’s a matter of two things: The music a band makes sending me somewhere most don’t, and the alignment with my own loss and profound sadness in a way that fuels the will to move on and live again, as hard as that may be. I’ve always been thankful that Cave In makes music that connects to me, but I never have felt it as hard as I did this year with “Heavy Pendulum.”

Many people know the story of Cave In, the long-running, impossible to truly classify band that tore into the world on the wings of fire-breathing, wildly influential debut “Until Your Heart Stops” and has changed colors and sounds throughout the past two decades. The death of bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018 seemed, at the time, to be the potential end of the band, and their 2019 record “Final Transmission” appeared to verify their final days. But the fires were still burning, their love and respect for Scofield forever flowing, and they decided to carry on, create again, and they returned with the amazing “Heavy Pendulum.” This album is a triumph on every level. The remaining members of the band—guitarists/vocalists Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath, drummer John-Robert Conners—united with longtime ally Nate Newton (Converge, Doomriders) to take bass and added vocal duties and turned on the lava flow, delivering a mammoth 14-track double album that melted us to the ground. It’s a huge, heavy, infectious, energetic record that not only pays proper homage to Scofield but pushes the band onto a new course with the future open and exciting, the possibilities endless.  

“New Reality” is a killer opener, the perfect way to prepare you for what’s ahead with big riffs chugging, catchiness surrounding you and Brodsky calling, “New reality, never knew would be, dawning on me.” The soloing scorches toward the end, and the final moments leave you in the dust. “Blood Spiller” makes the perfect next step, the second half of a 1-2 punch that smokes and smashes, the chorus of, “Fresh kill or the killer, you can choose only one,” digging into you. The band mashes heavily, the guitars get spacious, and Newton gets in on the action, howling, “Watch it run!” “Floating Skulls” keeps the heat on high, Brodsky’s singing often taking on a James Hetfield feel as he barks away. “Careless Offering” is another destroyer, pummeling and bleeding as Brodsky warns, “Someday we’ll be coming for the blood on your hands,” a vow that is repeated several times. The guitars take off into the stratosphere, and Newton’s wails punish again, the track chugging off into the stars.

“Amaranthine” is a track that lyrically was built from Scofield, so he’s very much a part of this record. Fittingly Newton takes the bulk of the vocals here, paying homage to the man whose shoes he’s filling, doing so with rage and passion. “We make peace with our sins, raise our shields to the sun,” Brodsky sings over the chorus, the energy flowing through the entire band, the guitars blazing, and everything ending in fittingly strange colors. “Reckoning” is a rare political statement by the band, and it hits hard, McGrath jabbing, “You swore on your bible with pages worn and distressed, how about a revival without getting too complex,” his voice taking on an uncharacteristic but pretty cool twang. Closer “Wavering Angel” is the longest song, a 12:09 cut that feels quite uncharacteristic coming from Cave In. It’s quiet, delicate, and pained, Brodsky quivering, “Have you ever held somebody too close? Took ‘em like a drug, then you overdose,” his hurt dripping. The track remains solemn and lightly storming, Brodsky calling, “Heavy, heavy wet weather, twisting, turn to the never,” as the pace begins to pick up, and eventually the heaviness lands. The guitars do battle, the melodies increase and cascade, and the emotional high and hypnotic haze reach their apex, slowly fading into vapor.

I also got to see the band in August for the first time in nearly 20 years. It was an emotional lift. It was a healing night. It was the alignment with blood and spirit that art you love and the creators who made it can connect with you and heal you. “Heavy Pendulum” is not just my favorite record of the year. It’s a collection of songs that will live with me and heal me until I disappear, and I’ll live in gratitude and adulation until the end of my days. (May 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/CaveIn.Official/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/cave-in-heavy-pendulum

For more on the label, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

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