Cave Bastard are this week’s victor of the trusted “choosing a band to review on the basis of cool name” game which characterizes so much of my work here. Such name amused me. Also noted next to their entry was that their bassist is an ex-member of the unrelentingly cool Cattle Decapitation. My enthusiasm grew. Then I saw the marvelously colorful artwork and logo emblazoned on the front of The Bleak Shall Devour the Earth. My excitement swelled to boiling point and I immediately invested time into listening to it. Were my expectations pinned too highly? Arguably.
The defining quality of The Bleak is most definitely its choppiness. I’ve reviewed few albums which dart around as much this. The central touch-points are death and doom metal but other components utilized include black metal, prog-lite noodlings and atmospheric interludes. “Neo-Genesis” tracks a course across this map, hitting each influence, in just five and half minutes. Such kinetic song-writing and the clear demarcation is good in the sense that no aspect is buried; however, the disjointedness is apparent. Compounding this are the transitions which turn on a dime; one passage will finish at the end of the bar and another will start on the next or with almost no actual bridge. Immediacy is achieved but at the cost of sophistication or slick song-writing. They only exacerbate the patchwork feel which characterizes The Bleak, a feeling which would have been obvious even with neater transitions on account of the segregated influences.
All this is heightened by the seemingly random album pacing and construction. The first track, “Throes of the Devourer,” exceeds a mere introduction in length and intention but is too short and halts before it can develop into a full song. There are two interludes of around a minute but they’re not pauses or breathers; rather, they’re just fragments of songs which begin and end in an unsatisfying manner. More doom is stacked towards the rear of the record too, creating a slower, more lethargic conclusion when compared with the boundless energy of the remainder. While a couple of the openings are particularly pummeling, notably “Massacre Reaction” and “Liar Betrayed,” this impact is lost as each progresses. Stronger moments, including the badass riff at 1:20 in “Massacre Reaction,” become isolated as The Bleak‘s flow is habitually disrupted. Is this a full-length designed to satisfy in its entirety or an EP which exhibits various slivers of the Cave Bastard sound? It’s nominally the former but ultimately falls closer to the latter.
Frustratingly, I can’t even say that the component parts are that engaging. The record has its moments but a hefty chunk, such as the unexciting doom on “Trapped in a World of Formlessness” and “Purity Through Oblivion,” and the final minutes on “Liar Betrayed,” drag it to a halt. I couldn’t level accusations of ‘boring’ at The Bleak given its frequent variations and diverse execution but the result of these qualities is that I’m encouraged to actively listen. Unfortunately, when I do so, I am disappointed. Taking the whole, there are structural issues. Breaking it down, I’m left scrabbling for anything remarkable to note.
Neither The Bleak nor Cave Bastard are fundamentally terrible as their root sound is fine. Many elements are solid enough. But only one part was truly excellent (the aforementioned “Massacre Reaction” riff) while the rest is at best decent, at worst frustrating. The many problems ultimately overshadow any positivity I noted such that I can’t recommend this début.