I first came across Deafheaven while browsing music at Radioactive records. A pink album cover caught my eye. My friend, Jon, told me that Rolling Stone had hailed the album as the best metal record of the past summer. Metal album? I thought. Since then I’ve played that pink album, Sunbather, a countless amount of times. Don’t judge a book, or record, by its cover.
Deafheaven is a black metal band from San Francisco, CA. Their sophomore record, Sunbather, caused quite a stir amongst music publications and fans of the disparate genres combined on the album. On Sunbather, the group seamlessly melded melodic black metal, hard rock, hardcore, post-rock, and shoegaze in a unique, innovate, and tasteful way. Opinions amongst metal fans about the band, however, are divided. To see how split, while also getting a good laugh, browse the Sunbather review section on The Metal Archives.
Their 2015 follow up, New Bermuda, consisted of the same combination of disparate genres. It was heavier, with the same melodic metal and post-rock influences that the band showcased on Sunbather (ranked 94th on Rolling Stone’s “Top 100 Metal Albums” list). A couple of months ago, my friend, Don, let me know about a new Deafheaven single, Honeycomb. I listened once and then found myself playing it over and over. The lyric at the end, “my love is a bulging blue faced fool, hung from the throat by sunflower stems,” gets me every time.
The album starts off with pianos and echoey guitars. A vocal spoken-word sample appears over the instruments, with faint singing in the backdrop. The track escalates into a hard rock passage with soloing, soaring guitars, and screams. The sample reappears later on. You Without End concludes with cold and expansive black metal tremolo picking that suggests that this is indeed still going to be a heavy metal album.
While listening to the album with Tape Leak staff, Steve the editor, noted the odd clash between the uplifting “pop” guitars and George Clarke’s pained screeches. “It’s weird, but it works,” he commented during a listening session. This juxtaposition is odd indeed; on this album, more than their previous records, the screaming sounds incongruous and stands in stark contrast to the recent addition of bright and upbeat guitar playing. The dichotomy, however, isn’t off-putting or alienating to new listeners, at least it wasn’t to my staff mates.
The next two tracks, the album’s singles, feature Deafheaven’s characteristic combination of black metal, post-rock, and shoegaze. The rock riffs and soloing are distinct and faster than the post-metal, post-hardcore, and doom metal riffs that the band has employed on past projects. In the middle of Honeycomb, the group unexpectedly shifts into a quick melodic punk rock passage with a jammy hard rock solo. The track ends nicely with a slow rock riff and Clarke screaming about tortured love.
Towards the end of next track, Canary Yellow, there is a weird jazzy and bluesy bit. It reminds me of jazz passages I’ve heard on albums by progressive acts Between the Buried and Me and August Burns Red. Later in the track, the band plays an upbeat guitar passage with more soloing. The song ends with the chanted lyrics, “On and on and on we choke on” and Clarke finishing the lyric with “my lover’s blood.”
Track 4, Near, is a post-rock interlude with tremolo picking, hypnotic singing, and ringing guitars. It’s a post-rock cut that is soothing to the ears.
Glint proceeds. It also features black metal and post-rock. One of my favorite moments from the album appears on this track. Towards the end, Clarke is heard screaming in time with the band’s syncopated playing. Glint ends with a satisfying combination of raw guitar soloing and groovy playing.
Following Glint is Night People. It’s an unusual deviation not only from the album but also from the group’s entire discography. The track features Chelsea Wolfe and Clarke singing alongside Ben Chisholm’s pianos and ambient keyboard synth sounds with the band’s epic guitars and drumming. The track blends ambient music, operatic and ethereal vocals, and 80s stadium rock. It’s a solid track.
Worthless Animal is the final song. It starts with groovy drumming and ringing jazzy guitars. Anthemic and spacey guitars appear throughout the intro and they add a nice touch. The track features a prominent bass guitar passage, intermittent jazz-like guitars, echoey guitar effects, and Clarke’s black metal screaming. A warm riff appears in the foreground on the latter half of this track and alternates with heavy melodic riffs. The album ends with the warm and echoey riff fading out of the mix.
On OCHL, Guitarists Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra explore more elements of hard rock and indie rock, with McCoy straight up soloing on a few of the tracks. I liked the groovier passages and the way the band sounds like they’re just jamming. Deafheaven’s new bassist, Chris Johnson, cannot go unmentioned. His playing is solid throughout and great through the groovy hard rock passages and the fast black metal passages. Daniel Tracy’s drum playing is tighter than ever. During our listening session, another staff writer kept commenting about Tracy’s fast fills and aggressive playing. George Clarke’s screams are also as passionate and visceral as ever. It was refreshing to hear him singing on Night People and I really hope to hear more clean vocals on future projects.
I’m eager to see whether or not the band will move in a more prog rock direction, a hard rock direction, both, stick to the combination of genres that distinguished the group initially, continue in the course of this album, or do something completely different.