Cavern
Outsiders

Despite some reviewers trying to liken Cavern to post-nappers Russian Circles, I’m just not hearing it.  In fact I think Russian Circles are overall pretty poor but that’s just one asshole’s opinion so don’t mind me.  These Baltimore bashers have far more in common with the ruthless riffing and angular stops n’ starts of NOLA’s criminally overlooked instru-metal-ists Collapsar and Don Caballero’s melodic jazz circa American Don than anything else.  I heard a little bit of 5ive’s Hesperus in the mix as well.  The band’s progg-y, minor key melodic licks weave and thread themselves across brutish, thudding drum patterns played louder than thunder cast down from Mt. Olympus while the 6-string serenity soon mutates to thick, sludgy madness.  I’ve been following this band since the very beginning and in all honesty their third release Outsiders is the strongest, most defined of the bunch.

Past Cavern releases featured atonal, acerbic shouted/screamed vocals, but the band opted to jettison them out the shuttle hatch for a completely instrumental attack.  Opener “Garrett” employs a tactical guitar twinkle that splays open its innards revealing arteries packed with chunky sludge cholesterol and Nick Harkins’ beefy bass ballast.  His brother Zach constantly shifts the guitar agenda from muted thrash runs to haggard doom blow-outs while maintaining heightened melodic sensibilities.  Drummer Stephen Schrock consistently proves his monster status; greasing agile, jazzy snare fills, steady punk beats, overdriven metal mayhem and a performance that borderlines on overkill but somehow touches down into tasteful playing with numerous accents on the toms and a lot of sand-shifting tempo management.  Jagged, twitchy noise-rockin’ stops n’ starts descend into graceful Floydian ambiance whenever the tune scales its final daunting peak.  All throughout the stringed-instruments are bathed in light, love and dump-truck loads of FX pedals.

“Lotus Eater” opens with the finest guitar melody on the album; a lick that thankfully doesn’t bow out after its initial run for glory and makes a grand reappearance at the ball much later on.  Stephen pounds out his snare fills and scattershot time-fluxes in syncopated unison with the fleet-fingered 70s prog guitar runs that remain in the higher register and ascend into spires of noise reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine’s seminal work on Loveless.  I always know I’m diggin’ an instrument song when I immediately find myself dreaming up lyrics I’d like to put to it.  Deranging the mix and debauching the pretty vibes are icy landscapes of shredding black-metal tremolo beaten into silly putty by a furious, near-blast beat and manic cymbal splashes which totally take the track into an entirely different direction.  This is a keeper by any standard.

The title track really piles on those plucky, finger-tapped guitar melodies where Zach’s lick seems to endlessly circle, cycle and oscillate atop a plummeting percussive stomp and delay-drenched enhancements.  Once the piece settles into its mid-tempo, doom-y chug the music alternates between stark, gnarly sludge heaves and burden cleansing leads full of glimmering shimmer as Nick keeps the low-end locked into fluid propulsion.  The busyness of the entire band is frequently astounding and much of that is to do with Stephen’s driving polyrhythms that push the tom-tom capacity for all its worth.  If you would have told me this is an unreleased track from American Don, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye.  Also, what is it about those winding, heartbreaking lead guitar melodies that remind me pleasantly of the tear-drawing Swedish stuff such as Katatonia in their prime?  Am I crazy…yes, probably, but I swear I hear it although my short-term memory of said movements was unapologetically bashed to pieces by a blunt-force trauma climactic ending that would send a streak of pee down Tool’s pant legs.

“Hawkeye” breaks its knuckles across a doom-y, desolate thrash riff in its early going.  This is Cavern at their most absolutely aggressive, showing no regard for the listener’s sanctity.  Eventually wraparound guitar melodies and ballsy rhythmic grooves enter the mix, but this piece mostly stays sludgy and thrash-doom-fucked into oblivion like High on Fire with a sly yet not overbearing indie influence rearing its warty chin at will.  Again Schrock livens up the mix with assault n’ battery fill-work, rock beats and dangerous rolls, while adding a lot of soul to his slash-y, splashy cymbal magic.

Gorgeous chords culled directly from the depths of a REM sleep dream occupy “Ithican” before the band enters into a detuned, riff-thick chug full of open breaks where lingering minor key licks are given buoyancy thanks to a lifting bass line and Stephen’s space-minded beats.  That’s not to say you’re going to get an easy go of things, because this shit deconstructs into a metallic freak-out that’s like a crusty d-beat lost at a prog-rock concert.  Angularly, honor roll math-rock shake-ups continue to surgically incise their way into the ribcage and these Am-Rep twinges give way to elephantine sludge chugs that spare no rod in bringing the riff distortion up to 11.  A rocky twang manifests in “Braddock” which would be befitting of the Fucking Champs crossed with 5ive’s later melodic riff cascades.  Still those looking to shuck n’ jive in strict 4/4 blues signatures will probably find themselves wondering which beat to bang their head to on this razzle dazzle wall of ADD-afflicted acidity.

Glorious 70s riffs and Floridian melodic doom, runs like a river wild across “The Crook and the Flail’s” raging tides of locked-in groove.  The complexity is still there but I feel the boys landed their spacecraft back on Earth for this one and said, “Fuck it guys, how about we just lay into some big, bent-note riffs and chunk up the doom-y thickness for the breaks.”  That’s not to say it’s a normal take on the instrumental stoner style, because most bands wouldn’t have the sack to end their song with a gravity defying blast beat.  Sprawling, melody-intensive leads dynamically alter the course of “Cloud Chaser’s” frenetic thrash drum patterns and rugged riff terrain.  Despite all of the glue-huffin’ madness there is an arc that unfolds into tangible riff-progressions and multiple catchy parts.  Closer “Elevator Karma” is much slower than anything else on the album; relishing a knuckle-dragging, Melvins-y drone full of choking power chords and dirge-y riffs which send the album home on a desperate note without sacrificing any of the tight playing or melodic intricacy that’s been Cavern’s calling card from day one.

Outsiders sure ain’t easy on the digestive track.  That’s for sure.  Multiple listens are needed to catch the many nuances of each particular track and although ideas are thrown at the wall with glee, a surprising majority of ‘em stick like glue.  I love the band’s prior outings with vocals and consider myself a big supporter.  Though the vocals weren’t virtuoso in performance, they really did play the important place of another instrument, so I withheld certain trepidations about this latest record.  My worries turned out to be unfounded, because going instrumental has paved the way for Cavern’s strongest outing thus far.  This is a fuckin’ great album and I think it trumps several big name bands that have made a career of similar sounds.  It’s harder than Russian Circles, more energetic than Pelican and it’s better and more progressive than anything post-American Don Don Caballero.  If you dig recent instrumental gems from Irepress, East of the Wall and Boar, you should go nuts for Cavern.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
October 28th, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: Jason Solomon

    What a great review. Your description is spot on!


  2. Commented by: Todd McKeone

    What a well-written review of an outstanding work of art by some of the finest musicians I have had the honor of sharing a stage with!!! Cavern blows me away every time I hear them play, and they’ve captured that experience perfectly in this latest album of work. Great review!! Incredible album!!!


  3. Commented by: Jay

    Thanks Jason! Thanks for always stopping by and checking out my work man. Means a lot. And glad the review caught the vibe here. This is such a great album. Cavern has that unique vibe going on that seems to be specific to the Maryland area.

    Thanks Todd! Glad you dig the album and glad you dug the review. I’ve love to either catch these guys live (had to miss them a few times unfortunately) or have the pleasure of opening for them!

    Hopefully, this is the record that will break them to a large audience. They deserve it. There is something about their sound that a lot of instrumental bands of this type can’t even match. For my money it’s way better than Pelican, Russian Circles, etc. And no offense to those bands or those that like ’em. I just prefer this more and think the music is more emotional, complex and rockin’.


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