On March 28, 2018, Cave In’s Caleb Scofield was killed in a freak road accident. The 39-year-old bassist was driving towards a toll booth in Bedford, Massachusetts, when he attempted to change lanes, and his pick-up truck collided with a concrete barrier: he died almost instantly as the burning wreck rolled along the highway. Survived by his wife, Jen, and the couple’s two children, 10-year-old Desmond and seven-year-old Sydney, Caleb also left behind a distraught extended musical family in the closeknit New England hardcore/metal scene, having served in Cave In for two decades.
Fans crowdfunded more than $45,000 to cover his funeral expenses within two days of his death, while friends and former bandmates – Cave In, Pelican, Old Man Gloom, Isis – arranged benefit gigs, the latter ending an eight-year-long hiatus to pay tribute. Within this supportive, fecund community there were months of mourning, celebration and productivity, all swirling simultaneously.
“It was crushing,” Cave In’s drummer, John Robert ‘JR’ Conners, says of Caleb’s death, speaking four years on, via a video call with Hammer. “When you’ve had as long a relationship with someone as we had with Caleb, it’s like dealing with a family member. If you really love that person, if you love spending time with that person, if you’re creative with that person, then it’s devastating. Each person needed to figure out how to cope with that.”
“For Cave In, we just put so much work into the benefit shows,” singer/guitarist Stephen Brodsky continues, picking up where his bandmate of 27 years left off. “In the heat of doing that stuff, we were just really wrapped up in all the logistics, rehearsing and making appearances. In a way, having all the work kept us from spiralling about the effects of the grief.”
By all accounts, Caleb was a devoted parent and a loyal, loving partner. “His love for music was almost equal to his desire to be a good dad,” his cousin, Kaitlyn O’Connor, was quoted as saying by local press. Isis added on social media: “He was a great father [and] a loving husband, and his loss will be most deeply felt by his family.” Cave In stated in their tribute to him: “He was one of a kind, our best friend and an unfathomable world of inspiration.”
On a musical level, to know the mark that Caleb stamped on heavy music is to know the restlessly eclectic journey Cave In enjoyed with him, and are now continuing in his honour. Stephen, JR and lead guitarist Adam McGrath – three middle school chums from Methuen, Massachusetts – added Caleb to their ranks in early ’98 after meeting him on Cave In’s first American tour.
Although the four-piece initially raged their way to prominence in the same Boston hardcore scene that birthed Converge, they fearlessly dabbled with grunge and prog in the early 2000s. Their six albums form a sliding scale between apoplectic hardcore and hypnotically melodic rock. And with Converge’s Nate Newton stepping in to help his friends as they continue to process their loss, the impending Heavy Pendulum once more pushes their capabilities.
The quartet’s first album for their new label, Relapse, Heavy Pendulum is Cave In’s monolith. At 70 minutes in length, it’s easily the grandest undertaking of their career, and it justifies every second as it weds the quartet’s metallic and melodic leanings in hitherto uncharted ways. Lead-off single New Reality doesn’t fuck about with dishing out the heaviness, flaunting a guitar riff that’s as hellishly low as it is precious to its creators.
“It’s a variation on an open G [tuning] with a drop C wildcard in the mix,” explains Stephen. “It’s a tuning that Caleb came up with called the ‘Secret C’. It reminds me of Caleb, so it’s nice to continue writing stuff in that tuning.”
Speaking about the complete body of work Stephen says, “It’s one of the most focused writing efforts that we’ve done in a long time. We were on such a roll with writing that we just kept going and going, cranking out songs and ideas, which probably explains why the record’s so long. We could really sink into this sonic world and see what came out of it.”
It’s almost alien to hear Cave In feel musically comfortable… anywhere. When Stephen humbly plays down their 1998 debut, Until Your Heart Stops, as “Converge worship”, that drastically undersells its innovation in the then immature metalcore space.
Converge may have had an obvious influence on its jagged licks and nonstop screams – Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou produced the album, as he did with Heavy Pendulum – but the avant-garde song structures were exclusively Cave In’s, breaking the rules in a genre that didn’t even know what its own boundaries were yet.
Just two years later, Jupiter emerged. Rather than seeking to refine their metalcore origins, or to iron out any of the quirks Until Your Heart Stops had, instead it pulled a 180, calming Cave In’s soundscape. Wails were replaced by gentle singing, metalcore grids became horizonfree space rock, squealing riffs were supplanted by grooving post-hardcore chords. With hindsight, Stephen attributes the shift in focus to the band’s youthful members hearing grunge dominate the airwaves.
“When Pearl Jam’s shit was hitting, we were super-young and impressionable,” he recalls. “I just wanted to dive through my TV and leave Methuen and wake up in Seattle.”
“We also grew up with bands like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd,” JR adds. “They weren’t afraid to mess with their sound and try different, experimental things.”
As you’d imagine, cries of “Sellout!” followed Cave In as they eased off away from Full On Attack Mode. The decision to sign to RCA Records – then-home of Foo Fighters, The Strokes and Kelly Clarkson – and the even mellower alt-rock of 2003’s Antenna only amplified those dissenting voices.
“That came a lot from the elite world of hardcore,” Stephen recalls. “But playing rock bars in Boston that were 18-plus or 21-plus, a lot of people told us that was selling out. And the thing is that Boston is such an underdog town. The Red Sox went almost 100 years without winning the World Series. So I think a band like Cave In getting major label interest, people had never seen anything like that before.”
The glitz and glamour didn’t linger. Touring off the back of Antenna was instant and incessant. Desperate to add colour to the monotony of life on the road, the band reintroduced tracks from Until Your Heart Stops to the setlist. As a result, the demos for their fourth album, Perfect Pitch Black, reintegrated the sound of their hardcore roots, darting between unflinching aggression and soothing segues using what Stephen jokingly dubs “good-cop-bad-cop vocals”.
“When we handed in the demos for Perfect Pitch Black, RCA were not stoked about it,” says JR. “I think that started the process of the label being like, ‘What the fuck are you guys doing?! You’re not a metal band; you’re supposed to be a space rock band!’ I don’t think they understood where we were coming from.”
Cave In willingly retreated to the underground, re-signing to their old home of Hydra Head so that they could follow their own muse. There they made both Perfect Pitch Black and its 2011 follow-up, White Silence; the six-year gap between the two necessitated by the members starting new projects and spreading out across the country to prioritise family life.
Their swansong for the label was 2019’s Final Transmission. Released 15 months after Caleb’s passing, it was a collection of professionally mastered demos that the band made immediately prior to his death. It was on a trip home after a weekend of jamming Final Transmission material with his bandmates that the bassist had his fatal accident.
“I haven’t listened to Final Transmission since we were preparing to play shows [in 2019],” JR admits. “I listened to it when we were mixing and mastering and that’s all I can take with it. It’s got a lot of heavy emotion attached to it.”
If there’s even a sliver of a silver lining to this narrative arc, it’s that Cave In did not die with Caleb Scofield. If anything, preserving his memory has given the band new purpose. Both Stephen and JR describe nothing but joy in the entire process of making a new album, even extending this to the often-numbing commitments to doing promotional and filming music videos.
“We are able to connect to Caleb’s memory now through the band,” says Stephen. “It’s all taken on a greater air of importance, and it helps us continue forward. It gives us a new reason to do it. There’s a new meaning behind everything.”
Heavy Pendulum is out now.