We here at Stereogum have been doing this here Album Of The Week column for nearly a decade now, and virtually every record that we’ve covered in this space has been an album. That album-centric focus is right there in the name; it’s not Vaguely Defined Project Of The Week. And yet Cold Cave’s Fate In Seven Lessons, our pick for this week, is not an album. It’s not entirely clear what it is. It could be an album. Fate In Seven Lessons has seven songs, and it lasts for 33 minutes. It’s whatever that is.
Cold Cave have, in the past, released albums. Wes Eisold, former leader of the mystique-heavy and massively influential Boston hardcore band American Nightmare, started making music on his own as Cold Cave in the late ’00s. Eisold was born with one hand, which limited what he could do instrumentally. But Eisold was also really into dark, windswept goth and postpunk — music that could be made on a synthesizer. When I interviewed Eisold a very long time ago, he said that he’d “always felt a bit slighted with myself for not playing music I was listening to.” Cold Cave eventually did become a full band, though its membership remained in constant flux. The group released two albums on Matador; the second of them, the truly great Cherish The Light Years, will soon celebrate its 10th birthday. Since then, there have been no Cold Cave albums.
Instead of focusing on the album as a form, Cold Cave have put out music, usually just one single at a time, according to their own schedule. Eisold hasn’t wanted to owe records to labels, and he hasn’t had much faith in the primacy of the album as a form. He’s talked about watching friends being trapped “based on an outdated idea of a record cycle.” (Eisold has released an album, but it hasn’t been a Cold Cave album; the reunited American Nightmare dropped an impressive self-titled LP in 2018.) So Fate In Seven Lessons, while maybe not being an actual album, is the closest thing we’ve gotten to a Cold Cave album in a solid decade.
In most ways, Fate In Seven Lessons is Cold Cave doing the Cold Cave thing — something that’s extended for the entire no-albums period. Eisold has kept his focus, and his set of influences hasn’t really changed. He likes stark, bleak, vampiric music, and so that’s what he makes. The tracks on Fate In Seven Lessons have icy synths and sparse programmed beats and chiming snarls of guitar. (Anthony Anzaldo, who plays guitar on the record, is a fellow hardcore veteran who’s moved towards new wave and postpunk over the years; Anzaldo’s band Ceremony toured with American Nightmare before the pandemic last year.) Eisold sings in the sort of gasping baritone that’s been the preferred delivery method for the vast majority of gothy male singers over the past 40 years.
Eisold is good at that sound. He always has been. Once, I saw Cold Cave play the Pitchfork Music Festival in the middle of a punishingly hot Chicago day. Eisold and his bandmates still wore long black clothes and threw themselves around the stage with abandon; such was their commitment to the form. But there’s something else going on with Fate In Seven Lessons. Every song on the record — every one of the seven lessons — is a love song. Eisold wrote the entire album with his bandmate and partner Amy Lee. Their son Rainer Lee Eisold sings in soft little-kid vocals on a couple of songs and adds an adorable honking harmonica to one of them. So now we’ve got Cold Cave writing portentous gothic hymns about domestic bliss. That’s an intriguing new wrinkle for a long-running project.
All through Fate In Seven Lessons, Eisold and Lee sing about human connection as a kind of impossible miracle: “A seething atheist prayed for an angel.” The lyrics on the record concern past degradations and the idea that giving yourself over to someone else — to building something else — can be a salvation. I love this bit: “I wished wreckage towards the heavens/ But I reckon I’m ready for the reckoning/ I thought substance abuse could be cute/ But now I dream of silence and gardens.” Gardens are nice, you know?
Most of the music on Fate In Seven Lessons continues to seethe, but Cold Cave can sparkle when they want. My favorite moment on Fate In Seven Lessons — maybe my favorite moment in the entire history of Cold Cave — comes on first single “Night Light.” The song opens with Eisold intoning heavily over sustain-heavy guitars and droning keyboard tones. Then, 37 seconds in, the song briefly goes silent, and a shimmering New Order-style dance beat kicks in out of nowhere. It’s a total serotonin rush, and it’s beautiful. Cold Cave have done this before; they found similar ways of invoking New Order on the 2017 standalone banger “Glory.” But “Night Light” hits even harder. It’s the first Cold Cave album that’s truly exploded with joy. If you can make truly happy music and remain goth, then you know it’s real.
Fate In Seven Lessons is out 6/11 on Heartworm Press.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Sleater-Kinney’s Path Of Wellness.
• Polo G’s Hall Of Fame.
• Dean Blunt’s BLACK METAL 2
• King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard’s Butterfly 3000.
• Migos’ Culture III.
• Garbage’s No Gods No Masters.
• Islands’ Islomania.
• AFI’s Bodies.
• Azure Ray’s Remedy.
• Six Organs Of Admittance’s The Veiled Sea.
• KennyHoopla’s Survivors Guilt: The Mixtape.
• Pi’erre Bourne’s The Life Of Pi’erre 5.
• Marina’s Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land.
• Danny Elfman’s Big Mess.
• Wristmeetrazor’s Replica Of A Strange Love.
• Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH.
• Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real’s A Few Stars Apart.
• Dead History’s self-titled album.
• Jim Ward’s Daggers.
• The Scientists’ Negativity.
• Dennis DeYoung’s 26 East: Volume 2.
• Maroon 5’s Jordi.
• Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? Platinum Edition.
• Meat Wave’s Volcano Park EP.
• Pronoun’s OMG I MADE IT EP.