The Genius Of… Until Your Heart Stops by Cave In
Although its creators downplay it as “Converge worship”, Cave In’s debut album set a new standard for forward-thinking metalcore that few have ever touched.
Cave In’s talents have always been too great for mainstream success. Most bands spend their first decade introducing and refining a sound to win over fans of their stylistic peers and find a following. However, this New England four-piece has been known to dabble in a genre, instantly nail it, then move on to find other pastures to perfect. This trend has continued for two decades, beginning with the primal yet progressive debut, Until Your Heart Stops.
When this writer interviewed Cave In co-founder Stephen Brodsky last year, the singer/guitarist downplayed their first full-length as “Converge worship”. Brodsky’s comment was an unfair assessment of their work. Until Your Heart Stops was produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou and shares a spot with that band beneath the ‘metalcore’ umbrella. However, it’s also a unique amalgamation of Cave In’s influences from everywhere between the hardcore and prog rock scenes. In the process, it became the world’s first ‘progressive metalcore’ record and achieved an adventurousness that the New England ‘core bands in its wake – Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, All That Remains – never matched.
The erratic nature of the music reflects the state of the band at the time. When Cave In entered Ballou’s GodCity Studios, they were on their third vocalist (Brodsky, who assumed the mantle two weeks before recording) and third bassist (Caleb Scofield) in four years. It was also Ballou’s first time producing an album for a band that wasn’t his own.
However, recording was kept close-knit. Three-quarters of the band – Brodsky, guitarist Adam McGrath, and drummer J.R. Connors – met in middle school. They had long been friends with Converge through the Massachusetts metalcore scene. Singer Jacob Bannon popped by to contribute guest vocals and later the artwork. Even though Cave In was fresh from anarchic changes, a solid setup was in place to channel all of their fury into its purest sonic form.
Until Your Heart Stops is an album that unfolds. The opener, Moral Eclipse, is a two-minute blast that adheres to the metalcore model Converge previously summarized as “hardcore kids with leftover Slayer riffs.” However, it rampages through so many guitar parts and rhythmic patterns that it demands replays to be fully understood. Perhaps that’s why it’s the most streamed Cave In song on Spotify.
When the track seamlessly transitions to the groove metal march of Terminal Deity, the diversity of Cave In begins to come out. It’s not fully revealed, though, until The End of Our Rope Is a Noose. An ambient opening plummets into squawking noise rock notes. Then there’s some abrasive emo singing, which tugs back and forth with verses of hardcore fury, before the eight minutes wrap in a cacophony of doom metal chords. The title track is a similar hellscape of warring genres. It’s a metal, hardcore and noise rock thrashing that gradually tears itself apart, going from tightly constructed dynamics to animalistic howls over clamouring drums and ear-splitting bends. The looping, discordant notes of Segue 2 provide a moment of respite in comparison.
Then it’s time for Halo of Flies to see the future. It’s another experimental nightmare, its first half interrupting an all-out metal attack to break into a funk bass lick. But it’s when the song reaches its most conventional that it becomes most fascinating. Easy-as-pie punk chords explode into rapid-fire staccato chugging, then come back with a sung melody on top. Admittedly, it’s a hook as silky smooth as sandpaper, with Brodsky’s softer vocals nowhere near the level they’d reach for 2000 follow-up Jupiter.
Nonetheless, the dichotomy is indicative of the roaring/singing back-and-forth that would later define metalcore once Killswitch got their hands on it. It’s easy to picture a young Jesse Leach jamming Halo of Flies down the road in Southampton, Massachusetts, and frantically taking notes. The same can be said of Adam D. and the more episodic thrash riffing of subsequent song Ebola.
It’s safe to say that, for its genre, Until Your Heart Stops was a watershed moment. Meanwhile, for Cave In, it was merely the start. Just 13 months later, Jupiter declared how boundless their vision truly was when they eschewed metal entirely to create a cosmic but catchy prog rock record. 2003’s Antenna then dove into alt-rock, 2005’s Perfect Pitch Black was a subgenre-destroying summary of their career to date, and so on and so on.
It’s been almost 25 years of forward motion now, making Cave In one of the most underrated bands on the planet. Their first album continues to be a paragon of its genre, yet it never cast a shadow over the remainder of these creatives’ career.
A remastered version of Until Your Heart Stops is currently streaming and will be physically released on March 31.