Earlier this year, Deafheaven released their second album, Sunbather. It received top marks on this site – something not many albums get. This gig in a basement in Dalston is the first time they’ve played in the capital since its release. Thrash Hits were there in force.
Pre-gig meal: Psychic Burger at the venue. Of course we’ll eat a hipster burger before we watch a hipster metal band in east London. It’s delicious and recommended. Hipsters know what they’re doing. Sierra Nevada in the fridges as well. Well done, Birthdays.
6 things we learnt watching Deafheaven in Dalston…
1) Concerns abound from various voices about this gig occurring in Birthdays, nestled in Dalston, the heart of hipsterland. Will the crowd enjoy the gig in the same kind of frantic, furious fashion trve metalheads are known to? Isn’t the tiny basement just a little bit too tiny for a band this magnificent? Will they be magnificent? Well I pushed my way to the front so I had a great sightline, stood next to a chap who didn’t stop headbanging throughout and the band sounded magnificent – the thing of paramount importance – so have no doubts about Birthdays. The chip is firmly on your shoulder. Eat it. You won’t be able to moan next time, when Deafheaven are playing the Electric Ballroom.
2) There are two post-metal-related instrumental bands called WIFE knocking about. While many imagined tonight’s WIFE would be the other project of Touché Amoré’s Nick Steinhardt, who designed the Sunbather album art, it’s actually the other project from James Kelly of the literally-just-defunct Irish post black metallers, Altar of Plagues. It’s an atmospheric, electronic affair that sounds interesting enough with its sad glitches and swathes of pointed monotony but struggled slightly from a lack of being Deafheaven.
3) Sometimes the best setlist is the most obvious. Deafheaven simply play Sunbather from start to finish. While they do have a whole other very excellent album in Roads to Judah, it’s their new one that has elevated the San Franciscans to the point where their music is not only appreciated beyond the metal sphere but will actually top those fabled end-of-year lists. It’s their breakout album. It’s what everyone’s here for and they satisfy that call completely. The cynical voice in my head wonders whether anyone hanging around for the encore knows or cares about any other, older songs, but ‘Unrequited’ goes down a treat. 99 per cent of those in the room are nodding their head at most, but that’s enough of a victory.
4) Deafheaven are a band on the absolute top of its game. Much has been made of the quality and improvement of the new line-up, both from within and by casual onlookers, but hearing their magnificence tonight just confirms all the compliments. That the dirgey post-rock soundtrack to George Clarke’s blackened screeching howl fills the room completely is an understatement. For those standing at the back of the club, without a true and honest sightline to the band, making do with just the music tonight really isn’t that bad.
5) George Clarke is a sinister, sinister man. Onstage, anyway. Away from the performance he may well be humorous, humble and self-aware but when he climbs onto that stage and slowly, deliberately pulls on a pair of leather driving gloves, thoughts of surgery shoot through your mind. A backstreet kidney theft, for instance. When he hunches, almost slumps over his microphone, waiting for the next song to kick in, he glowers and stares through the crowd. His eyes failing to conceal an insatiable appetite for menace. Serial killing is menacing, after all. As the drums pierce the post-rock haze with equally subtler technique, Clarke flails and pumps his arms with power and purpose. The focus is always on those gloves.
6) While the vast wall of shimmering post-rock and shoegaze is used as a sonic assault on the aural senses, Deafheaven are visually overpowering as well. Along with Sinister George leading his largely static bandmate providing contrast on the stage, the addition of disorienting strobes is as overpowering as the obnoxious music they create. Being beaten into submission isn’t the first thought on many people’s minds when they wake up in the morning, but Deafheaven make it a viable and tempting option.