From the inky black shores of some post-apocalyptic Lovecraftian hellscape (by way of San Francisco), Deafheaven have emerged as one of the most controversial acts in all of heavy music. When they first burst onto the national scene with 2013’s Sunbather, they were derided as posers, hipster metal, pretenders to the (dark)throne due to their unique blend of Interpol-esque Smiths inspired electric retro jangle pop and Converge/Trap Them style hardcore sonic outrage, presided over by the high pitched black metal wails of neatly dressed and well coifed vocalist George Clarke. It was too weird and different a juxtaposition of opposing forces for a lot of the closed minded stereotypical basement dwelling neckbeards out there who give the internet a bad name, and they were out for blood.
Fast forward two years and the West Coast quintet return with “New Bermuda”, with a new record label and strengthened resolve towards dominating the ears of both friend and foe with the “blackgaze” Frankenstein’s Monster they’ve created. While I personally always appreciated what Deafheaven was going for, “Sunbather” never really coalesced for me, always feeling too dissonant while also somewhat repetitive, like the wall of double bass drumming, heavy guitar noodling and shrieking screams were placed haphazardly and randomly amongst the more serene passages. On “New Bermuda” the songwriting takes a big step up, and the entire record flows beautifully, thoughtfully and logically but never predictably or repetitively.
A collection of five individual ten minute plus tracks, each song feels like its own special microorganism, with a beginning, middle and end running the full gamut of emotions. The speed picking and double bass blastbeat assault found on “Sunbather” remains but with more tempo changes and catchier riffs employed, along with several hardcore-esque breakdowns and passages of black metal chug, showing that the vocals aren’t the only place that look toward the pagan vastlands this time out. Speaking of the vocals, Clarke still brings the Burzum-style howl but incorporates more of a Satyricon aping low growl at times, menacing and foreboding, perfectly segueing into the peaceful shoegaze aspects of the group’s repertoire, now fully blended into and out of the tracks themselves rather than existing as separate interludes between the thrashier numbers. The result is highly effective and affecting, brilliantly conveying the themes of loss, despair, rage and redemption in Clarke’s artfully vague but poetic lyrics.
I haven’t been hit this hard in the head or the heart by a record since Converge’s classic “Jane Doe”. People who can’t get over the clash of styles and imagery are probably never going to get it and that’s their loss, Deafheaven definitely earn their black metal cred with this release and just because they aren’t wearing corpse paint or fake armor and blood and hanging animal carcasses from the stage doesn’t mean they can’t tap into that swirling torrent of hopelessness and dread that the best, most sincere and genuine black metal instills in the listener. Sometimes being morbid, dark and intense is about more than just looking cool and sounding scary. For those of us who can appreciate that, there is Deafheaven.