Deafheaven – “New Bermuda”

Grade: A

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

Whirr – “Around”

(Photo Credit: Brooklyn Vegan)

Grade: B-

Whirr’s new album is only four tracks long, and falls awkwardly in between an EP and an LP. At 28 minutes or so, it’s roughly the length of some punk albums, but shorter than many of their other albums. This is, unintentionally, symbolic of the album’s awkward placement in between genres, blurring together metal, noise rock and shoegaze into that pumps up the volume but often hangs around longer than it needs to.

The four tracks on “Around” range from 5:53 to 8:47, much longer than the average songs on Whirr’s previous albums. The band is trying out more of a shoegaze sound, possibly inspired by the crazy work being done by crossover geniuses Deafheaven. Shoegaze is an incredibly tough genre of music to pull off, because it requires patience on both the band and the listener. A band has to maintain a sound, even a note, for a long time at maximum volume, without it becoming monotonous. There’s a reason there aren’t many famous shoegaze acts. Whirr don’t exactly pull it off. The songs stretch on too long, ideas too thought-up. The volume is there, and the gloomy, bleak guitars from their previous albums support the ideas. But there isn’t quite enough to keep in interesting.

The third track, “Keep,” is the album’s best, because of a volume change roughly 3:30 into the song. A subdued and constant sound is suddenly dropped out, and guitars kick back in much louder than before. It is this long, drawn out sound with the occasional hiccups that makes acts like Deafheaven and Godspeed You! Black Emperor the inspirational acts they are. The song transitions into the title track, in one long song that would’ve been too daunting and too long to release as one actual track. “Around,” just like the first two tracks, overstays it’s volume, staying quieter for its seven minutes.

I have to commend the band for attempting to blend genres like this. They do a pretty decent job, considering all of the conflicting elements. The songs just stick around too long. The volume, the guitars and the ideas are all there and great, but there’s actually just a little too much of it. If Whirr were to keep exploring this idea, though, I’d keep listening.

-If you like this try: Deafheaven’s “Sunbather.” I’ve already linked to my review a few times before.

-By Andrew McNally

August Burns Red – “Rescue and Restore”

(Photo Credit: Amazon)

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Provision,” “Sincerity”

August Burns Red have never been a critic’s choice band, and I’ve never paid them any attention in the past. But their sixth album, “Rescue & Restore,” is surprisingly succinct. Metal albums rarely come as a full package like this one does. There is a statement on this album, and while I am not sure exactly what it is, the band is trying to get their point across. Most of the songs fit together nicely into something closer to a narrative than is expected. This album seems like it was developed as a number of combined thoughts, not just a bunch of songs packaged together as an album, the fault of many metal records.

This album is pretty relentlessly heavy. The drums beat throughout, the guitars are always screaming. Lyrics are hidden behind screaming and growling (at many different pitches, which helps deviate tracks from each other). Quiet moments intersect heavy breakdowns and melodic riffs. There are two segments of spoken word, the first of which is exceptionally corny (in the song “Spirit Breaker”), laughably so. And the songs do begin to sound alike the longer the album goes on, another fault of many metal albums. But the album is a surprising success, drawn out and chillingly heavy. It won’t win any new listeners to the genre, but fans should embrace it as a great work.

If you like this, try: Deafheaven’s album “Sunbather.” Not really related in any way other than being ridiculously heavy, but it’s one of the albums of the year.

-By Andrew McNally

Deafheaven – “Sunbather”

Photo credit:

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Vertigo,” “Dream House”

“Sunbather,” a seven track, full-length record, is largely unclassifiable. Deafheaven have been both widely acclaimed in the critic world, and occasionally scorned in the metal world for their blending of genres. The band is currently being labeled as “black metal,” but there is a distinct shoegaze element to their music as well. To put it simply, Deafheaven sounds like a couple guys who wanted to start a metal band but listened almost exclusively to My Bloody Valentine. And there is nothing wrong with that.

This is a brutally heavy record. A majority of the tracks stretch close to or well over ten minutes, allowing the band ample time to stretch their wings and experiment. The songs build up upon themselves, twisting and growing, not unlike God Speed! You Black Emperor. In fact, if it wasn’t for the traditionally growly black metal vocals, Deafheaven would probably be pegged as a very heavy alternative/shoegaze band. But the vocals, as often inaudible as they are, add to the intensity, leaving Deafheaven declaring themselves as a metal band.

“Sunbather” is truly one of the most original and interesting albums I have heard in a long time. I do not have much of an affinity for most subgenres of metal, yet I could do nothing but gasp and let myself be wholly entranced by the band’s originality. Bands are finding it tougher and tougher to make volume equate intensity, but Deafheaven does it ceaselessly. Fans of heavier alternative bands might be able to transition over genres and appreciate what this band is doing. Nearly every track on this album, from the lengthy, abrasively loud songs, to the shorter and quieter interlude pieces, borders on perfection. Only the album’s closer, “The Pecan Tree,” is disappointing, solely because it ends anti-climatically, and this album needs a more proper climax. Give this album a few listens; it might just be one of the most original of the year.

If you like this, try: “Allejuah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

-By Andrew McNally