Sound — 9
Deafheaven is a metal band from San Francisco that has a knack for defying the status quo. The band is innovative and popular, a rarity in today's metal scene. Those who try to put them into a genre usually generate a ferocious firestorm on internet forums. Mainstream critics, however, give the band acclaim without any argument whatsoever. Case in point, Deafheaven's second album, "Sunbather," was named the best metal album of 2013 by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Spin, and Stereogum. Moreover, Metacritic reported that of albums from any genre, "Sunbather" was the best reviewed of 2013 and the seventh best reviewed since 1999. Coming from a relatively unknown metal band, the album also managed to chart well, peaking at #2 on the Billboard (USA) Heatseekers Chart and #130 on the overall chart.
What gets people going about Deafheaven is their unique brand of music, which most assert is closest to black metal and shoegaze. This album though will stretch those limits further and I am personally not comfortable describing this album, the band's third, in terms of genre.
What I will say is that "New Bermuda" is a significant step forward for Deafheaven. Let me preface any elaboration with the following: while nearly every music critic was salivating over "Sunbather," my feelings for it were lukewarm. I say this because it would be hard for Deafheaven to improve on perfect, so please understand that when I say "New Bermuda" is an improvement, I really believe there is a significant difference between it and its predecessor.
Whereas "Sunbather" relied on the directness of the contrast between hard and soft sections, "New Bermuda" uses much more subtle changes to keep a continuous flow. "New Bermuda" also incorporates some catchy riffs into the songs, for example at the start of "Luna." These riffs make the guitar work far more varied than it was on "Sunbather," where the guitars mostly played long, droning chords that created changing walls of sound. This is probably how Deafheaven's music came to be described as shoegaze. Deafheaven certainly does not get rid of this sound on "New Bermuda," but it is not the only sound.
Another lovely addition by the band is guitar solos. In particular, "Baby Blue" has one that is melodic and carefully constructed. That guitar solo is probably the closest thing to traditional rock that Deafheaven has ever written. It sounds cliché at first, but as it continues, the beauty of its simplicity comes to light. That really applies to the whole album actually; Deafheaven knows how to construct beauty from a few musical phrases of darkened ash.
Despite their advancements, Deafheaven does not forget the qualities that brought acclaim to "Sunbather." The drums, whether hard or soft, still dictate the mood in the sections when the guitars play droning chords. When the guitars are harsh, the drums' blastbeats provide an unnerving and dissonant contrast to the relatively consonant guitars. When the guitars are soft, the drums pronounce peace and/or a transition to a section with clean guitars. As such, the clean sections on "New Bermuda" are just as beautiful as the ones on "Sunbather." Specifically, the clean section at the end of "Gifts for the Earth" brings the album to an awe inspiring, I-can't-believe-what-I-just-listened-to finish.
Lyrics — 8
The clearest continuity from "Sunbather" to "New Bermuda" is the vocal performance of George Clarke. His peculiar, raspy scream never fails to add yet another dimension to Deafheaven's music. Something worth noting is that Clarke's vocal delivery makes the lyrics unintelligible (at least to my ears). In addition, he never changes this tone during the album. However, with both of these characteristics the potential positives weigh equally against the potential negatives, so no criticism is called for.
Overall Impression — 9
In conclusion, Deafheaven has evolved in a completely positive direction, retaining the best features of "Sunbather" and adding new ones. Again, coming from someone who did not view Deafheaven highly before, I think this album takes the band to a whole new level. Deafheaven's innovative music and killer live show make their rise in the metal world no surprise. I am anxious to see how far the band can get with this album. But even more so, I am anxious to see what new musical heights the band can reach on their next one.