Perfect Pitch Black
o what exactly is the distinction between hard rock and metal? After Stylus Magazine's Beginner's Guide To Metal a few weeks back I can tell you the difference between grindcore and doom metal (I think), but the area where metal shades into a band like Queens Of The Stone Age or …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead was outside of its scope and probably even more nebulous than the divisions it did discuss. I signed on to review Perfect Pitch Black on the strength of Hydra Head's past releases (Isis, Pelican, Jesu) and because I dimly recall a review somewhere of Antenna that made it sound like the next Best Thing Ever. The reason that kind of selection criteria is worthwhile is because occasionally it throws up something wholly unlike you were expecting.
After a brief, unnecessary intro, Cave In lurch into “The World Is In Your Way,” which features a powerful riff coupled with something that could be described as “crooning.” For much of the record, Stephen Brodsky's voice exists somewhere between Hetfield and Homme, except when he starts screaming. Aside from that screaming (a little guttural, but nothing to give the average listener pause), “The World Is In Your Way” could fit nicely into the heavier side of mid-90s rock radio; no blastbeats, no crushingly heavy breakdowns, no lyrics about Hell. These days, the kids rocking out to Disturbed or Cold wouldn't even register it as either metal or crossover. Later on we get “Paranormal,” essentially an excuse to listen to Scofield go “woah-oh” for seven minutes (and a surprisingly enjoyable one, aside from Cave In's decision to plop a perfunctory structural change near the end instead of just sticking with it), and directly after it is “Down The Drain,” an oddly psychedelic interlude – it's not actually Beatlesque, but it's definitely the closest Cave In are likely to get to “Within You Without You” albeit under a thick overlay of guitar. And elsewhere on “Trepanning,” “Screaming In Your Sleep” and especially “Droned” you have speedy, head-banging rockers that could have easily fit in on Songs For The Deaf.
All of which argues that despite their pedigree and surroundings, Cave In belong to that most dreaded, most maligned of subgenres (well, second most after rap-metal): alt-metal. Even the slightly more purist likes of the thickly stomping “Off To Ruin” or the grinding instrumental “Ataraxia” are more gateway drug than serious fix. Perfect Pitch Black probably won't get much of a response from the already faithful, but those of us not yet under a particular genre's spell often find that those crossover efforts are the most satisfying. And while the album isn't without its weak spots (“Tension In The Ranks” is where it all falls short, an almost-waltz that goes nowhere), it's strong enough that you wish Cave In did get on the radio more often, strong enough to have you banging your head and singing along.
Perfect Pitch Black may have more in common with Trail Of Dead than, say, Pig Destroyer or Sleep, but when the result is such a densely melodic forty minutes as this, it's hard to complain. Cave In's last record was their detour into the land of major labels; as they're back on Hydra Head, you can imagine how it went over. There's nothing shameful about scaling things back a bit after that, keeping your head down and putting out an album of solid, no-frills heavy rock. After all, even those who haven't fully heard the unholy siren song of metal need something to play air guitar to.