As easily the most divisive, yet critically acclaimed Black Metal band of the 21st century, Deafheaven have built a massive fanbase for themselves based predominantly off of 2013’s ‘Sunbather’, an album that took the bare essentials of Black Metal and blended them with elements of Post-Rock, Screamo and Shoegaze. Instead of ascending into the depths of hell while under the Black Metal genre tag, Deafheaven decided to ascend and sore using the textures of Shoegaze-influenced guitar leads that often built into dense and spellbinding crescendos.
‘Sunbather’ had the audacity to find optimism in darkness, with songs that would often transition between earth-shattering bleakness one minute and prettiness the next. Lead singer, George Clark’s vocals were often buried behind the guitar leads with his passion and emotion trying to burst its way through the wall of sound. Some Black Metal fans found the way that it completely went against the stereotypical tropes of Black Metal — with its pink album cover and semi-poetic lyrics of heartbreak — offensive to the people who have followed Black Metal for a long time and has cherished what it stands for. Despite the fact it attracted a large audience outside of Black Metal, some other music fans found the music to be emotionally manipulating likening it to Emo. The divide of people who admit to liking Deafheaven gets bigger as time goes on, with some people hurling insults at you for liking them and others actually discussing the music itself.
‘New Bermuda’ attempts to smash the expectations of people who were pissed off at their optimism in their music while simultaneously giving them the fuel to piss them off further. The extreme ends of both the light and dark side are much further apart on ‘New Burmuda’ with it dabbling sounding the most straight-up Black Metal ever as well as the softest they ever have. Right from the dark album cover, this threatens to be Deafheaven’s response to the reaction ‘Sunbather’ got.
When the opening bells ring on ‘Brought To The Water’ followed by frantic blast beats and depressed guitar tones with some tremolo guitar picking to boot, it’s a far cry from the opening sounds of ‘Dream House’ that caught the ears of so many listeners in 2013. Not only that but the vocals are much more up front than before with George Clark being on top of the music rather than underneath it – it’s because of this that his voice sounds so much more menacing than before. Yet when the track reaches the five minute mark, a wailing guitar solo breaks into an extremely clean and melodic guitar section where all the instrumentation eases up. They build the tension with this melody before and playing it heavier juxtaposed against the pained vocals, sounding simultaneously the most menacing and most accessible they’ve ever been. The contrast between the beginning and the end of the song is outstanding – the song ends with a (slightly disappointing) fade into some piano playing yet begins with the sound of an impending apocalypse.
That’s what Deafheaven consistently do well – they switch the stylistics of their sound halfway through a composition. On ‘Sunbather’ they did this but not to such extremes, the softest moments on the album came in the form of interludes that would break the songs up. These moments are made a lot shorter on this album and they stick out like a sore thumb – and (most of the time) they benefit greatly. On ‘Come Back’, about five minutes into the track Deafheaven all of a sudden break into this Soft-Rock interlude complete with an acoustic backdrop and it’s not the smoothest transition on the album, it’s one that’s ultimately rewarding. On the song ‘Gifts for the Earth’ the transition is an odd one because musically it’s easily their most accessible yet, with the howls coming in over the top of what sounds like it could be an Indie rock instrumental. But the transition towards the end of the track is probably the most head-turning moment of the album because the music genuinely sounds like the end of ‘Champaigne Supernova’ by Oasis complete with tamboruines, painos and acoustic guitars. It’s a testament as to how willing Deafheaven are to literally pull from anywhere influence they see fit.
There are other tracks where mid-song changes do occur, and they’re obvious, yet every single one of them smacks you in the face as hard as the last. On the centerpiece for the album ‘Baby Blue’ — a fantastic song name from a Black Metal band — they jump through so many different styles of music. The first three minutes of the song gently builds with absolutely gorgeous guitar interplay, relying on their talent that they have at making instrumental music sound so emotionally engaging, before it ascends into an exploding clash of riffs and vocals. Later down the road on the song, there are Wah-Wah guitar solos that shouldn’t sound as emotionally and physically engaging as they do before a Metallica-esque breakdown shows up. The band can fluctuate in different settings within a song yet make every section so engaging – like you’re on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next.
Although the vocals themselves are undoubtedly more heavy, the fact that they’re not smothered in guitar tones also makes them slightly easier to hear. And when they’re more easy to hear it’s easier to pick out the lyrics that set Deafheaven apart from so many other bands who fall under the Black Metal tag. These lyrics often detail the crushing moments you realise dreams aren’t always what they seem and that adult life is an extremely monotonous routine. Thematically this album will annoy people because it’s so obviously similar to themes that crop up in Emo music. On the song ‘Luna’ — which is easily the most consistently heavy song on the album — the lyrics often act as a direct sequel to the optimism found on the track ‘Dream House’ on ‘Sunbather’; ‘Tricked into some fodder about this oasis/This conversation of new beginning’ where he finds out that the dream wasn’t all it cracked out to be. This is an album that seems to be built on depression, ‘God had sent my calamity into a deep space/From which not even in dreams/Could I ever imagine my escape’ he sings on ‘Baby Blue’.
After ‘Sunbather’ Deafheaven could have gone so many different ways, the prediction from many was they would embrace the side of their music that appealed to people outside of Black Metal; there would be cleaner vocals, cleaner guitars and the songs would be shorter. Deafheaven defied these expectations by making an album that keeps its feet in so many different genres and styles, like an amalgamation of everything they’ve been so far mixed with some other styles they’ve tried to dip their toes in to their ever-evolving pot of influences. This band does all of this at once yet somehow manages to pull it off into one big cohesive statement that’s physically and emotionally draining. The fun part of this album is guessing where this band is heading next.
Best Tracks: Baby Blue, Luna, Brought To The Water
Worst Track: Gifts To The Earth