Deafheaven released one of the most acclaimed records of 2013, while simultaneously alienating sects of the metal community; being ostracised for not being ‘metal’ enough. Despite the dropped tunings, screamed vocals and lyrics that are as emotive as any you’ll find in the black metal genre, Deafheaven were seen more as a hipster-metal band. What set the band apart from their black metal origins, was the post-rock/metal and shoegaze influences that provided the listener with 10 minute-plus pieces that explored various styles, dynamics and tempos. It afforded us, among other things, down-tempo acoustic guitar instrumentals that were something that wasn’t ‘done’ on metal records and it showed many a listener (and many a band for that matter) that metal doesn’t have to consist of standard song-structures, a Metallica-like bucket o’ riffs and guitar solos. What was most impressive for this (until then) unknown band from San Francisco was that their extended pieces such as “Dream House” and “Sun Bather” made their way onto various publications’ ‘Best of 2013’ lists, forcing people to pencil Deafheaven in on their lists of ‘bands to watch’.
Since then, two years have gone by and many people have listened to Sunbather an inordinate amount, being able to map out the rises and falls of the hour long record like it was their own neighbourhood. Now, Deafheaven release their follow-up; New Bermuda, a daunting task. The band, it seems, have gone in a slightly different direction; removing the instrumental tracks and contracting the length of the record by a significant portion, making New Bermuda‘s five tracks a mere forty-seven minutes long (this is compared to the hour-plus length of their previous record). Stylistically, the album manages to also form two metaphorical sides of a vinyl record, with side A tackling the black metal of their psyche head-on and side B grappling with the different tones of a post-metal record.
Melding these two personas, what we are left with is an impactful record that goes from 0-60 mph, then back again, in nothing flat. While the first few seconds of the first track, “Brought to the Water“, show this characteristic, no song can be used to depict the band’s dichotomous dynamics as well as “Baby Blue” – where the opening moments take the form of an ‘Explosions in the Sky’ style riff before the ear-drum perforating wall-of-sound assaults the ears in a ferocious fashion. What is most impressive about this aspect of Deafheaven’s writing is that it is almost seamless and works even more effectively when the reverse is done at the end of the track – closing out with something resembling Explosions in the Sky’s “First Breath After Coma” more than Venom‘s “Welcome to Hell”.
This stylistic nuance forms the perfect segue into the second half of the record – diving deeper into the post-metal/post-rock styles than ever before; at times, even coming close to the ambient music you’d expect from Tycho or Gustaf Fjelstrom. In a way that is most befitting of Deafheaven’s style, “Come Back” and “Gifts For the Earth” toe the line between the band’s overriding stylistic homes and finds a happy medium, being able to balance the various movements with some impressive Godspeed You! Black Emperor-esque crescendos and diminuendos.
While describing incredibly diverse sounds that do not sound as though they lend themselves to forming a unified product, the factor that draws the entire album together is George Clarke’s vocals. The shrieked style with which he purveys his lyrical musings transcends the different influences the band takes in, and ties the whole record up in a way that makes it a coherent, cohesive work.
In fact, the only thing that holds New Bermuda back is a lack of surprise. The album is a brilliant combination of styles and nearly measures up to Sunbather in its sheer quality. What will hold back the acclaim this record accumulates however is that while the band have done their best to push the boundaries they set out with Sunbather, they have not broken them down in the same way as the expectations set out in 2013. They added more of the black metal twist to the first half of the record while they have blended more of the shoegaze/post-rock/metal styles into the second half and while this is an interesting characteristic that creates a great record, New Bermuda does not benefit from surprising an unwitting listener with their discordant, dichotomous recordings. The aspect that gripped many listeners/critics in 2013 was the unexpected; they did not EXPECT to hear what they did. New Bermuda does not benefit from this and instead will, unfortunately, suffer from it.
Release: 2nd October 2015
Genre: Black Metal / Blackgaze
Notable Works: Sunbather (2013)
Contemporaries: Alcest, Bosse-de-Nage and Liturgy
Influences: Pantera, Joy Division, Ludicra, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and My Bloody Valentine
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