Release Date: Oct 2, 2015
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
Nothing about the band Deafheaven makes literal sense, starting with their place in the world. They are a black metal-ish band, but black metal fans either hate them or engage in constant, spirited discussions about why they don't. Their breakout, 2013’s Sunbather, took basic notions about black metal and shoegaze from their first album Roads to Judah and airlifted them into a rarefied emotional realm where track lengths dissolved into the whole along with straightforward interpretations: George Clarke’s lyrics compressed earthbound experiences—depression, material envy, struggles for purpose— into wild, leaping abstractions about love, oceans of light, tears.
Deafheaven have been the subject of many bold proclamations, to the point where merely having any opinion about them is draining. Here is one take you may have overlooked: They are rightfully a metal band. They are not subverting metal or making a mockery of it; they are part of the paradigm for metal in this age. Metal has always imbued its electric fury into other genres to create some amazing hybrids.
The opener on Deafheaven’s new album ends with the line, “A multiverse of fuchsia and violet surrenders to blackness now.” It diminishes any suspicion that the San Francisco post-metal group would come out of the bright pink haze of 2013’s wildly successful Sunbather attempting to do the same thing twice. To be fair, many bands would. After that smash sophomore LP, Deafheaven found themselves running an international victory lap that only seemed to end this summer with the lead-up to their third album.
When, two years ago, Deafheaven released Sunbather, its mix of black metal and shoegaze became one of the most polarizing records inside and out of the black metal community. Inside the insular genre there was plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth as Deafheaven took the sound of extreme black metal and dared to add My Bloody Valentine-style passages of beautiful shoegaze and the structures of post-rock to the genre, leading to accusations of hipsterism (something also aimed at Liturgy, another act daring to mess with the blueprint) and fraud, often bizarrely based on the fact that the band - and singer George Clarke in particular - are a little bit photogenic. Outside, there was suspicion from the rest as Pitchfork took the band under their wing, once again leading to hipster broadsides.
Deafheaven’s breakout moment came with the release of Sunbather, the group’s death-metal LP that saw them cross over and become, like Liturgy before them, a Pitchfork-approved version of the genre. Alongside the screamed vocals of George Clarke and double bass drumming of Daniel Tracy, came swatches of post-rock and shoegaze’s atmospheric chords from songwriter/guitarist Kerry McCoy. New Bermuda sees them follow that up by pushing things even further.
Oh, the dilemma of Deafheaven]. With 2013’s Sunbather having been probably the biggest black metal breakthrough record of all time – transforming the band from a cult concern to somewhere on the cusp of the mainstream – the San Francisco group have become one of those bands everyone apparently needs a strong opinion on. In a similar vein to Alcest or Liturgy, they have broken the rules by ignoring clichéd conventional ideas about what the genre to which they loosely belong should be.
California-based metal group Deafheaven's 2013 breakthrough album Sunbather was triumphant and uplifting, even as it dealt with harsh personal issues such as insecurity and alienation. That album's heavily anticipated follow-up, New Bermuda, offers a much bleaker perspective, beginning with the abandonment of joy, expressing feelings of not being able to escape, and ending by envisioning death. Musically, the group sharpens its attack, adding more traditionally metal-sounding elements (most notably the chugging riffs and wah-wah soloing during the middle of "Baby Blue") to its shoegaze-influenced black metal sound.
Despite being their third album, Deafheaven's latest feels like a sophomore effort thanks to the career-making hyperbole that followed 2013's Sunbather. While that album paired life-affirming, Friday Night Lights-ready post-rock with the band's black metal-indebted sound, New Bermuda is a much more metal-based affair. Opener "Brought to the Water" serves as a perfect thesis statement, offering sinister synth growls and ominous church bells that tear into blackened blast beats, chunky thrash guitars and frontman George Clarke's guttural growls.
Not many bands somehow manage to straddle both the spheres of mass critical acclaim and niche black metal and survive to tell the tale, yet somehow, Deafheaven have. With their third full-length ‘Sunbather’, the band completely opened up their audience but it’s with their newest effort that they prove to entice them further. After such a success, it’d be easy to toe the line of safety and sacrifice some of the heavier elements that saw them win over the masses, to become safer.
Deafheaven's head-turning 2013 breakthrough, Sunbather, cross-pollinated headbanging black-metal vitriol and spacey shoegazing in ways that made them seem like subversive iconoclasts. On their follow-up, though, they're out to prove that they're a true metal band, with a more generic sound built on screeched vocals and chugging riffs. There's some beauty to be found amid the bleakness — check the lyrical guitar solos of "Brought to the Water" and "Baby Blue," the Smashing Pumpkins-style strumming on "Gifts for the Earth," or the album's occasional Pink Floyd atmospherics.
In the run-up to the release of Deafheaven’s third album, New Bermuda, the dialogue swirling around the band reached a fever pitch. In the wake of its breakthrough sophomore album, Sunbather, the band was worshipped and scrutinized in equal measure. All this chatter was the product of its rise to fame, which included scoring a spot in an Apple product announcement and having the best-reviewed record of its release year.
That San Francisco quintet Deafheaven managed to be simultaneously 2013’s best-reviewed band and one of its most widely reviled says less about its unlikely, glorious alchemy of black metal and shoegaze on its second LP, “Sunbather,” and more about the feral nature of a subgenre whose adherents can be more concerned with tru-kvlt pedigree than with musical quality. The band extends its feat on “New Bermuda,” offering five songs equally likely to make your neck hairs stand on end and to rip them out at their roots. “Baby Blue,” for instance, opens with two minutes of airy strumming, locks suddenlyinto obsessive minimalism, proceeds with blackened, croak-throated vocals, and exits on a chugging riff worthy of Slayer.