I noticed a long time ago that my favorite bands never seem to fit neatly into an existing genre. They all sit on the lines between the categories. From my junior-high days listening to Oingo Boingo all the way up to the most recent string including Milemarker, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, and The Mars Volta. Each one of these bands came from the spaces in between and provided me with exactly what I needed at the time. The band doing that right now is Deafheaven.
Deafheaven’s breakout record, 2013’s Sunbather (Deathwish, Inc.), was awash in guitar warped into waves and bent into textures courtesy of Kerry McCoy. In oversimplified terms, it was a deft blend of shoegaze and black metal. The record was also noted for the screeching vocals of George Clarke. These elements remain firmly intact on New Bermuda (ANTI-, 2015), but it departs from the formula of Sunbather in several ways. Though each of these five songs runs longer than eight minutes, they rely less on the lava-like meandering of traditional shoegaze and more on the calculated precision of metal.
Being the metal nerd that he is, McCoy finally bows to the all-mighty riff. His skills are various and far-reaching and he stretches them out on every song. The post-rock dynamics are still here, but there’s a new variety available. My personal favorite is the closer, “Gifts for the Earth.” The shortest track here at 8 minutes, 23 seconds, it really showcases the breadth of the guitar work of McCoy and relative newcomer Shiv Mehra. Amid the guitar and and piano runs (!), Clarke’s vocals sound further away, as if he’s finally disappearing into the darkness.
Daniel Tracy’s blast beats and fills are as dynamic and exciting as they were on Sunbather. “Baby Blue” finds him doing his best Dave Lombardo, riding the riffs like some wild beast. Stephen Clark’s bass is all but hidden in this five-man body, but like any good spine, it holds the whole thing all upright.
Vocalist George Clarke is as caustic as ever on the mic. I seem to spend a lot of time defending his vocals when I attempt to introduce people to my favorite band. Many say they like the music, but don’t like the vocals. This runs counter to the metal community’s cries of “crossover” and claims that Deafheaven is “metal for people who don’t like metal.” This is metal, and I dare say one has to like metal to like it. It’s not your dad’s metal, but it’s metal nonetheless. Many sub-genres of metal and most of what is called shoegaze use vocals as another instrument in the mix. Clarke’s vocals are best seen in this light, as another color on the palette.
Now more than ever, Deafheaven’s bleakness is veiled in beauty. If Sunbather was a dream where wishes don’t come true, New Bermuda is a real place with no dreams at all. The only way to go from here is up.