It’s not often you come across a band who you can honestly say are unique, but Deafheaven are one of those rare bands who have managed to carve their own niche in an overly-saturated music scene.
Deafheaven’s sound is distinctly black metal, but they intertwine elements of post-rock and shoegaze into their sound without leaving the scars of their combination behind. Previous efforts (an LP and several EPs) have shown signs of potential, but like with most young and ambitious projects, the tracks were overtly claustrophobic and tried to convey too many ideas in the time available. However, their second album Sunbather, released last year, shows no sign of this problem, instead Deafheaven have opted for expansive tracks that allow themes and motifs to breathe and develop before they are switched. In fact Sunbather only has seven tracks, but still comes in at an hour, allowing four tracks to reach the ten minute mark – of which three surpass it.
All of the long tracks have enough musical changes to keep the listener interested and contrast the often ferocious attack with mellow clean sections. Opener Dream House is supplemented with glorious tremolo guitar lines, which soar high above the traditional black metal underbelly, which is replicated by the final track The Pecan Tree helping to conclude the album. Elsewhere Kerry McCoy’s guitar is laced with bright delays and reverbs, and even follows a more traditional lead approach on Vertigo, which reminds of Mastodon’s Crack The Skye mixed with the darker sounds found on Remission.
However, it is during the shorter tracks where Deafheaven allow themselves to loosen their grip on black metal and explore the post-rock and shoegaze elements which are often more subtle on the longer cuts. Irresistible is a beautiful instrumental featuring gentle guitar work and will please fans of Sigur Ros’ introverted soundscapes, whilst Please Remember utilises noise and spoken word, before transforming into a hypnotising acoustic passage. The final short track Windows is the darkest on the album, taking sinister cues from the album Ghosts on Magnetic Tape from Steven Wilson’s drone side project Bass Communion.
George Clarke’s vocals, whilst completely uninterpretable, provide a massive sonic presence and guide the song more through raw emotion than any tangible meaning. However, this is not to say that the vocals are pure nonsense, for anyone who takes their time to read the lyrics they will be able to pick up the loose concept weaved throughout the record.
The post-rock/metal genre is a surprisingly hard sound to stretch over an entire album, due to its often minimalistic and repetitive nature, however on Sunbather, Deafheaven manage to keep their sound fresh and inspiring throughout its entire length by juxtaposing passages of beauty and bleakness cleverly and by knowing when it’s time to attack and when it’s time to withdraw. Sunbather is easily the best and most inventive record to come from the black metal genre in years and for a three piece (as they appear on the album) it’s surprising just how much sonic space they can fill.
Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this week’s blog please like, comment and subscribe to email updates. Apologies for being a day late – I spent the whole of yesterday traveling to and from Wales!