Perfect Pitch Black (Hydra Head)
by Tim Den
Talk about wrong assumptions: After Cave In‘s rollercoaster ride from metalcore darlings to prog giants, major label hopefuls, and now back to underground cult heroes, many (including their bio writer, apparently) were quick to celebrate the “return” of the band’s earlier, heavier style, attributing their failed brush with mainstream success as the reason why material off of their first two albums was being performed live again. Well, if you’re one of these folks, Perfect Pitch Black is gonna bum you out. Okay, bassist/vocalist Caleb Scofield is screaming a lot on these new tunes, but anyone who’s paying even the slightest bit of attention will notice that technical metalcore is nowhere to be found on this platter. There are some heavy rock moments that recall Led Zeppelin/Black Sabbath channeled through High On Fire/Clutch, but that’s been Cave In’s M.O. since Jupiter. There are no traces of The Dillinger Escape Plan-style madness. DO NOT confuse fresh, modern interpretations of classic influences as metal just because the performers have a past in the genre. Cave In have proven time and again that they do not look back. Why would they start now? Perfect Pitch Black includes rougher moments than on their major label album, Antenna, but it’s a logical extension of the band’s musical diet since, not previous to.
So what have they been aurally consuming since we last heard from ’em? As expressed by guitarist/vocalist Stephen Brodsky in multiple interviews, mainly one band: Dungen. The Swedish psychedelic outfit has effected Cave In in a BIG way, turning their Rush-inspired space jam tendencies into tripped out (and a bit stoned) exercises in riffage. For one thing, 80% of the songs on Perfect Pitch Black employ a 3/4 time signature. Combined with the fuzzy tone of guitar distortion and the pentatonic (albeit just left-of-center) fretboard runs, this shit swaggers like a frozen ’70s arena rock god thawed out in the 21st century. One listen to the bridges of “Trepanning” and “Paranormal” will bring tye-dye colors to your eyes and the taste of acid to your tongue. But done Cave In style, they’re stylish and clever, and most importantly, not wussy like normal hippie shit.
But does any of this mean better songs than Jupiter and Antenna? Has psych rock made Cave In a better band? Unfortunately, no. Jupiter and Antenna were epic albums that – despite one being slightly more commercial than the other – still had delectable melodies at their hearts. Not so with Perfect Pitch Black. It seems that the band’s desire to hypnotically repeat refrains and riffs – a stoner rock trademark – has left melody behind. “Off to Ruin,” “Paranormal,” and “Ataraxia” are boring and often redundant in their long-windedness, while “Down the Drain” and the chorus of “Droned” only show slight signs of melodiousness. The band’s previous power to make your spine tingle with a single line – be it “you’re another coat of red in hell” or “true love in joy opposites always is the case” – has sadly fallen asleep, replaced with mediocre, sometimes predictable hooks sung in Brodsky’s usual obsession with the sharp “a” sound (way, say, may; followed by a strange, annoying, close-throated “uuunnnnn” sound: i.e. “the world is in your waaaaaaayyyyyuuuuunnnn”).
It’s ironic, then, that the best song on the album – one that’s worth the price alone – is also the least melodic. “Trepanning,” largely steered by Scofield’s intimidating (and absolutely fucking bad ass) beast growls, rips like Neurosis on speed. Check those motherfucking hammer-ons! That shit is both HEAVY and tasteful! It amazes you with flashiness, but also makes you bang your head like mad! Perfect. The band might not’ve been able to pull off an entire album of similar numbers without it becoming schticky, but for one moment, it works like a charm.
Perfect Pitch Black, although continuing Cave In’s ever-morphing quest for ROCK and defying the “return to roots” rumor, is, in the end, not as great as I thought it’d be. But knowing the band’s capabilities, there’s still a chance that the next stage might come as a total revelation. I’m holding my breath.