Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Blog is Back! (Again)

Not like anyone checks this site regularly as it is, but I thought I'd let you all know that the Blog of Steel(e) has returned. For how long is anybody's guess, but it's here right now, so be thankful. Below you will find a review of an album that was initially going to be a part of my Top 10 albums series, but I've scrapped that for a few reasons, first being the fact that my list is impossible to nail down to just ten, and secondly, I just don't feel like writing ten long reviews of albums I know like the back of my hand. I hope you're happy.

The Steele Cage Classic Album Review

The Steele Cage Classic Album Review

Cave In


Hydra Head, 2000

Progression. It’s a word most metal and hardcore fans fear. When they hear “progression,” they usually think, “going soft.” Metallica talked about progression back in 1995 when recording the album that became Load. Megadeth promised a more mature progression of their sound prior to the release of Risk in 1999 (if that was a progression of any prior Megadeth sound, I sure as hell can’t find it). Rarely does progression, in the context of heavy metal and hardcore, work out as planned for the artist. They may strike gold and manage to find a new sound unique to themselves, while maintaining their fan base (see: Celtic Frost, post-Morbid Tales, pre-Cold Lake), or they might fall flat on their faces and be seen as sellout poseurs (see: Celtic Frost, Cold Lake-era; Metallica, Load and ReLoad-era). Rarely do bands change their style completely and immediately proceed to make the best album of their career. One band that managed to do just that was Boston’s own Cave In.

Cave In had gained the adoration of the New England metal and hardcore underground throughout the latter half of the 1990s with their demos, early EPs, and genre-defining albums Beyond Hypothermia and the brilliant Until Your Heart Stops. They were riding the wave of popularity that was only beginning to crest, along with up-and-coming bands like Shadows Fall, Unearth, and Killswitch Engage, as well as already-established peers like their friends in Converge. They had cemented their influence on the scene with their technical prowess, blistering brutality, and--most of all--unmatched songwriting ability. Where most bands in the scene strung together numerous hardcore and thrash riffs without any sort of rhyme-or-reason, Cave In wrote 5-to-10-minute epics that made sense (see: “The End of Our Rope is a Noose,” “Juggernaut”). It would have been easy for Cave In to play it safe and stick with the metalcore sound that they helped make into a trend. Instead, they created a rock and roll masterpiece. They created Jupiter.

Cave In’s progression from Until Your Heart Stops through Jupiter can be described as nothing short of drastic when listening to the albums back-to-back; however, the stop-gap EP Creative Eclipses (released in 1999) showed signs of things to come. Creative Eclipses took many of the psychedelic elements toiled with on UYHS and brought them to the forefront, minus the excellent songwriting (aside from the terrific cover of Failure’s “Magnified”). The EP was initially disappointing to fans, myself included, who were accustomed to the Slayer-esque riffs and booming bottom-end ferocity of the previous album. Many assumed this was just a way for the band to experiment on the side, away from the context of a full-length album. Boy, were we all in for a surprise.

I remember the opening riff of “Jupiter” blasting through my speakers and being surprised at how simple the riff sounded. The record itself was loud, with booming John Bonham-esque drum tones and a powerfully fuzzed-out bass tone, but it sounded unlike anything Cave In had committed to tape prior. When Stephen Brodsky’s vocals came in, to my surprise, they were all clean. No longer heard were the raspy, distorted vocal inflections I had become near-obsessed with on UYHS. In place was a voice that sounded like a combination of Bono, Dave Grohl, and Geddy Lee rolled into one. The album sounded more like Radiohead and the Foo Fighters having some sort of retarded sonic orgy together than anything a former “metalcore” band could have produced. In my adolescence at the time, I was initially put off by the change in direction. As the record unfolded, however, those hooks got me.

If I had to name a standout track on Jupiter for you, I couldn’t, because I’d just be reading off the eight song titles that comprise the record. They run the gamut from the beautifully somber “New Moon”, to the hyperspace rock of “Brain Candle”, to the absolutely crushing “Big Riff”, with its John Bonham-in hell drum sound dominating the song. The appropriately titled “Decay of the Delay” is even catchy as hell, and it’s an instrumental track! The lyrics are heavy on the word play, but not in a gimmicky way, as “Innuendo and Out the Other” and “In the Stream of Commerce” reveal. The band has strayed from drawn-out instrumental passages, but each musician gets to shine without going overboard.

I have a tendency to rely on hyperbole when it comes to albums I love. Well, no shit, I love them. That’s why I praise them so heavily. I’ll do my best not to exaggerate here, and I’ll leave you with this: If you want to hear one of the most original, well-crafted, and – most importantly – ROCKING albums ever created, do yourself a favor and pick up Jupiter. Like, now.