It may be a bold claim, but I believe that, like Radiohead, Kanye West, and Arcade Fire, Deafheaven deserve to be remembered alongside the most innovative musicians of the 21st century — artists who brought something entirely new to the table. Of course, as with album’s like Radiohead’s Kid A or Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, you can see where Deafheaven got the inspirations for their 2013 album Sunbather, but they synthesised them into a sound no one had ever heard before. Using black metal as the canvas, but shoegaze, post-rock, and even britpop as the colours, they succeeded in painting a hazy, beautiful, but brutal sound that even those not used to heavy music could enjoy. Metacritic, who aggregate reviews from all major publications, crowned it the most critically acclaimed album of 2013 and, I hate to jump on the bandwagon but, it was my favourite too.
Regarding musical innovation at least, New Bermuda is far less distinct than its predecessor. It is a far more ‘metal’ album: sonically darker and heavier in every way. Take the opener, Brought To The Water: blast-beats left right and centre, Iron Maiden-style galloping guitar riffs, soaring classic rock guitar solos, even the not-quite-yet-cliché sounds of church bells. While on previous releases, George Clarke’s distant screamed vocals, buried low in the mix with his drawn out syllables and unchanging high vocal tone, acted more as a complimenting texture to the guitar’s melodies and chords, on New Bermuda, they’re brought right to the front, and his delivery is far more percussive and evil. On Come Back, his wretches and snarls sound wonderfully inhuman.
On first listen, while enjoying the more brutal and distinctly metal direction, their apparent backtrack on genre experimentation may be disappointing. But on repeat listens, putting Sunbather out of your head (as much as is possible), you realise that rather than transcending the metal genre as they have done in the past, this time they are traversing or exploring it, pushing and expanding it to see how far it will go. You can imagine the questions running through their heads. On Luna, can we make something that is beautiful and melancholy, but simultaneously brutally heavy? On Come Back, can we write a cohesive song that starts like the soundtrack of a quiet rainy day, which then turns out to be the nuclear apocalypse, and then finishes with an instrumental that sounds like a 90s indie rock song? On Gifts For The Earth, can we write an extreme metal track which features tambourine, piano, acoustic guitar, and an electric guitar riff that sounds like it’s from Tame Impala song? All whilst remaining purely metal and without sounding like a gimmick?
Do they achieve it? For the most part, of course. The performances are exceptional, the songwriting is powerful, the sounds are bold, dark, and heavy. They certainly never sound gimmicky, somehow blending such a range of metal subgenres and influences over epic song structures and lengths (each of the five tracks is around ten minutes long) so seamlessly that it takes repeat listens to notice. Each track chucks you from moments of sublime ecstatic heights to brooding melancholic depths.
One of my favourite things about Deafheaven is how, by touching down on the more familiar, beautiful, and emotional tropes and sounds of rock music, especially in the quieter instrumental sections of each song, they give their music a decidedly suburban, real world feel. It’s hard to describe. While most extreme metal genres have a grandiose, otherworldly feel about them, evoking images of evil or destruction, Deafheaven’s music, despite its emotional extremes, still manages to evoke more familiar, personable, everyday feelings of depression and disappointment.
Speaking of disappointment, the only one I have is that New Bermuda just doesn’t achieve what Sunbather did. Sure, it’s away and above the standard of most metal albums released this year, but while New Bermuda immediately grabs you by the throat and holds you spellbound from beginning to end, it doesn’t reach Sunbather’s ability to grab you by the heart. This is not the album they’ll be remembered by, but it certainly doesn’t detract from them being one of the best bands in the world.