Key Tracks: “Luna,” “Gifts For the Earth”
Let’s get this out of the way – there’s no such thing as ‘pop-black metal.’ It’s a combination that would go together like salmon and cherry. To call Deafheaven the “poppiest” black metal band is a misnomer, it’s a meaningless statement. The last person to complete a marathon still completed a marathon. Yet listening to Deafheaven is like running a marathon – it’s a test of physical stamina, and not everyone will finish. The black metal band’s third album greatly loosens the grip on shoegaze, but tightens it on the metal, making for an even louder listen.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already have an opinion on Deafheaven. Anyone even remotely aware of current metal does. I raved over “Sunbather” way back when, and I think “New Bermuda” is an even more intense record. “Sunbather” was split into sections, where the listener was offered a break after every draining track. “New Bermuda” comes without that option, offering solace only in the songs themselves. At five songs, it’s slimmer than “Sunbather” and shorter, too. And it’s because the ear breaks come at shorter intervals.
The album’s breaks in volume are centered in quieter guitar rhythms, soundclips, and fade-outs. Twice the band fade-outs early, leaving the last few minutes of a track to audio clips and stuff you can quickly tune out to. Thanks, Deafheaven. The band grabs hold of the listener early and doesn’t really let go.
Although the band strays much further away from shoegaze, they still find ways to keep it original. George Clarke’s vocals are simply louder than on previous records. Instead of blending him into the music, the band has decided to put him front and center, his screams searing through the guitars like a katana in the rain. His lyrics are deeply poetic, if not entirely unintelligible. Opening track “Brought to the Water” is less draining than the “Sunbather” songs. And closer “Gifts For the Earth” actually features acoustic elements that border more on alternative than metal, much to the chagrin of late-20 somethings in Megadeth shirts.
But still, Deafheaven are here to bring the pain. “Luna” is possibly the most merciless song they’ve ever done. It starts like any Iron Maiden song – with its muted guitar riff and speedy drumming. But it is relentless. The whole album is, occasionally giving the listener glimpses of what life on the outside of Deafheaven is like, a less painful world that they cannot share in. Deafheaven, in their third album, have distanced themselves from their famous roots – they don’t want to be seen as pop-metal famous, and don’t want to contribute to polarized metal. But polarization is a key part of music, even metal, and Deafheaven have proven that they can not only write a record that’s brutal in sections, but one that’s brutal throughout. “New Bermuda” has a wide potential audience, maybe one wider than they expected. But it’s not for everyone, and sour metalheads that made their mind up two years ago aren’t going to be swayed back. Their loss.
-By Andrew McNally