10 June 2013
by Raziq Rauf
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being made fun of? That unease where some obnoxious prick knows something that you don’t and you don’t really know what to do because you’re not sure. They’re being too subtle, but you know it’s not quite right – it’s too unfamiliar. You don’t know quite how to fight back because you know that if you say the wrong thing, they’ll just laugh at you.
Those obnoxious pricks are Deafheaven. Their weapon of torment is Sunbather. It’s bloody great.
Pink is not a natural colour for a black metal album. It looks like a psychedelic electropop album. It’s not. It’s black metal. It may fit into that sub-genre of transcendental black metal coined by Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, but it’s black metal alright. Is it satire in its highest form? Are Deafheaven using a slice of their artistic output to mock the trver-than-thou naysayers? Possibly.
The idea that someone that isn’t ostensibly “black metal” – wearing corpse paint and leather cuffs – can’t make a decent black metal album is, of course, ridiculous, but the problem a lot of people had with Liturgy actually stemmed from the fact that Aesthetica just wasn’t that good. It was different, sure. It was made by a bunch of cool kids from Brooklyn, sure. It wasn’t a stunning album though. That’s where Sunbather is different. While it’s possible to read so much into the artwork and subtleties, that can only ever be a superficial secondary to the music, and Deafheaven have created some absolutely stunning music.
Opening track, ‘Dream House’ runs at over nine minutes and as the guitars jangle in, before bursting into a wall of post-rock sound, it begins to wash over you and pull you in. The art of holding the listener’s attention is a difficult one to master, but crushing them with music that is determined to chop, change and channel untold emotion clearly works. The combo aural assault of shrill black metal, furious hardcore and glimmering post-rock is an ordeal, and you come out feeling all the better for it. If relief is what makes Sunbather, bury me in it.
Then there’s the 10-minute title track. After the relative piano-led calm of ‘Irresistible’ allows you to appreciate ‘Dream House’ for a moment, ‘Sunbather’ explodes into a glorious cacophony of swaddling guitars and piercing, dynamic drums, striding confidently through into the next dimension. It’s another excellently constructed song and that isn’t an overuse of hyperbole. There is a structure underpinning this song that means that all the poetry that is screeched out overhead has something to cling on to. Hearing the despair that courses through this song and that it’s being told in a fashion that alternates between the literal and abstract is astonishing. Again. That is no overuse of hyperbole.
Six minutes of noise (‘Please Remember’), a 14-minute journey through the wily fury of ‘Vertigo’ and the pain-stakingly subtle ‘Windows’ leads up to closing track ‘The Pecan Tree’. It’s another outstanding track, but this time – after the initial detonation, the swirling guitars that enter unexpectedly and the drumming that changes its direction on a whim – there’s a feeling of finality in the last couple of minutes. The tempo slows and the cries become even more primal. It fades to dust. Relax.
In a world where everything is now “amazing”, it’s rare to find music that genuinely makes your eyes close and your jaw drop, but Deafheaven’s music is as close as we’re going to get. In amongst the torturous noise that makes up Sunbather, you will find the most beautiful of albums. You don’t need to call it black metal, shoegaze or post-metal. You don’t need to call it anything. Just suffer through it and you’ll be rewarded for a long time after.
Sounds like: the blackest (metal) heart pouring its deepest emotions over you
Top tracks: Dream House, Sunbather, Vertigo