by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
Posthumous art is always a tricky thing to approach and understand. Instead of approaching the work as the current statement from an artist, it becomes the last. It carries with it instant nostalgia, a melancholy that can permeate the entire work and make it tough to think about it in any other light, turning the work into something that must be decoded to find if the artist knew what was coming, if they were saying anything that could be considered complete and final.
The first new album in eight years from beloved Massachusetts band Cave In should be a cause for celebration and in a way Final Transmission is still a chance to celebrate. Only, with the passing of bassist Caleb Scofield who was tragically killed in an auto accident in 2018 the album has become the celebration of a life, an honoring and a goodbye instead of a return. The nine tracks on the album, on which Scofield plays on them all, act as a sort of eulogy.
The rest of Cave In, seeming to understand the tricky nature of releasing the album have dealt with the loss head on rather than having his passing hang over the record like some unspoken ghost. In addition to being out front and open about the difficulties in all of the lead up press and interviews, the album itself also addresses it out in the open. The opening title track is a voice memo Scofield texted the rest of the band shortly before his passing. In it, he plays an acoustic guitar, humming along a melody for a new song idea. Having his voice open the record like this is a way to honor him and also trusting of the band. They are letting you into their grief, letting you know this won’t be a passive listening experience. This is followed up with “All Illusion,” a song that contains lyrics penned by Scofield found in one of his journals by his wife and given to guitarist Adam McGrath. This leads in to “Shake My Blood,” the band’s open comment and heartfelt goodbye to their bassist with lyrics written together, and sung by all three remaining members. Opening the album this way and dealing with the subject out front allows one to then engage with the album as it is meant to be experienced. It gives the listener permission to carry on so to speak as is, to enjoy the music as new music and to celebrate it as such.
Final Transmission finds Cave In sounding lean and mean. Harkening back to the sound of their 2000 album Jupiter, Final Transmission feels raw and aggressive. Scofield’s bass lines are thick and attacking. Driving the songs forward with confidence. Part of that raw feeling seems to stem from the fact that originally these songs were just going to be released as demos. Most of the lyrics and vocals weren’t finished until after Scofield’s death. Even in the sequencing of the album, it feels like you’re listening to it slowly start to unravel, like the sound is breaking apart the farther it gets out from the center. Across the album Cave In feel at home both in the more spaced out vibe of a band like Failure, with the soaring melody of “Shake My Blood,” to the more desert/sand vibes of a band like Soundgarden heard in the vocal melody of “Winter Window” or all of “Strange Reflection” (which also has one of the best bass lines on the record).
Final Transmission feels like the perfect summation of Cave In as a whole. You can hear hints of all their previous releases from Jupiter through their last album White Silence. Album closer “Led to the Wolves” is another Scofield composition driving largely by his riffs and maybe the most aggressive song on the album. Whether or not the album title also refers to Cave In as a whole, time will tell. Half of the proceeds from the album are going to Scofield’s family and Cave In have been playing some shows with Nate Newton of Converge assuming the bass duties. One thing is for sure, Cave In have meant a whole bunch to a whole lot of people and Final Transmission is a perfect example why.