Hailing from a decidedly unfrostbitten San Francisco, the blackgaze Deafheaven has released its latest five song album, titled New Bermuda. Ranging from a drain cleaner caustic to a gentle caress, the five long-playing tunes on New Bermuda weave experimental, varied, smooth tapestries of sound.
Deafheaven is one of a select few bands that has generated conversation and controversy due to the immense strength of its previous effort. Called Sunbather, the album set a precedent for the band as forerunners of a nascent genre, blackgaze. Combining the high speed tremolo-picking insanity and momentum of black metal, with the wall of sound ethos of shoegaze, and the melodic sensibility of pop and post rock indie, blackgaze offers a jaded metal listener a true earful. Bands like Solstafir touch on blackgaze within their folky, often forlorn melodic extremes; Alcest propound the genre further. With a clear, crisp, modern mix, the band posits New Bermuda‘s ideas into listeners’ ears. Songs are long, often running over eight minutes. These indulgent tune lengths grant the band more room to spread its wings and experiment. The band expertly weaves and shifts in and out of genre boundaries, combining influences seemingly without undue effort. Soundscapes are lush and vivid, running swiftly through differing moods and emotions, recalling life as it happens.
Two guitars barrel through the tunes, carrying intense melodies, near-jangly clean lines, and discordant, dissonant counterpoints. Sparse solos are tone forays which make liberal use of wah, echo or reverb, and delay. George Clarke‘s vocals are a hostile, higher pitched growling screech, often unintelligible, a staple for black metal. Steven Lee Clark‘s bass guitar is fairly demure, not inaudible but not in a showy upfront position. Dan Tracy‘s drums shine on each song, offering moving grooves, intense blasts, interesting fills, and very progressive divisions. Piano makes sparing appearances to carry different emotions through the songs.
“Brought to the Water” has a metal part which fades into an interesting, but brief piano piece. The emotional energy is palpable: it’s like the seasons changing, the aural equivalent of the anger of summer storms giving way to the peace and tranquility of winter. Then it ends… and “Luna” begins. “Luna” contains a very relaxing, clean electric guitar and drum-flourish type interlude. Deafheaven’s tunes can chill out as fast as they can speed up, while maintaining fairly natural and smooth transitions; it’s musical hummingbird work. “Baby Blue” has a nebulous, fleeting, dreamy quality. While not too complex, other then the cymbal and some of the drum fill work, “Baby Blue” sounds really soothing, relaxing, and vibrant. It seems to have underpinnings in alt rock with some dark, smoky thrash, and wicked black metal undertones. “Come Back” has a transition that’s a staple for seasoned extreme metal listeners, and works every time to “wake you up”: the quiet intro with the explosive, loud verse. “Come Back” has a structure very similar to “Brought to the Water”; it’s almost self referential. The daring slide guitar led coda, a nod to the country folk prevalent in more epic folk metal subgenres, is such a delicious prospect. Don’t let the tangents cause fear or apprehension – these tunes have a black and thrash metal backbone readily audible to a careful listener. “Gifts for the Earth” is the astute, intelligent exit for the album, with something rarely performed: a pop tune with straight-up bloody throat black metal vocals. Here, all of the pacing, arrangement, and melodic sensibility of pop is combined with the intensity and firepower of the most extreme metal. A dedicated, confident band with excellent songwriting and capable musicianship qualities is needed to make a song like this convincing, and Deafheaven fit the bill well.
The only danger in blackgaze is that it’s taken some of the most distinctive parts from disparate genres and combined them a little too successfully, meaning, the music runs the risk of becoming “Urban Outfitters black metal”, and, gasp, gaining mass appeal. Which, of course, is the goal of a creative type to begin with: to have their art appreciated by as many as possible. Some will call it selling out; others will welcome the diversity of sound with open ears, and open arms. This album, and this band, has been able to spark often vehement, lively debate within metal circles, so it’s definitely doing something right. A natural evolution from the basis set by Sunbather, this latest disc is such great ear candy… if you’ve heard it all, you owe your ears some quality time with Deafheaven’s New Bermuda.
Brought to the Water
Gifts for the Earth
George Clarke – vocals
Kerry McCoy – guitar
Shiv Mehra – guitar
Stephen Lee Clark – bass guitar
Dan Tracy – drums