Sunbather review by Deafheaven

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  • Released: Jun 11, 2013
  • Sound: 9
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.6 (51 votes)
Deafheaven: Sunbather

Sound — 9
The amount of buzz Deafheaven have stirred up in the past few years is atrocious. Between Deafheaven, Altar Of Plagues, and the ever-infamous, yet Cutlery-certified Liturgy, "hipster black metal" has become a full-fledged phenomenon. Liturgy toured with Death Grips, Deafheaven was invited to play the Pitchfork Music Festival. The point being that a cult sect of heavy metal has been getting attention from groups completely unexpected to enjoy this type of music, and the "true" black metal fans, the worshippers of Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal, and the like are less than happy about it.

Enter Deafheaven, with 2013's monolithic "Sunbather." The band seems to be reaching influences that span from Mogwai to My Bloody Valentine, to even the Fuck Buttons at times. The general black metal aesthetic is kept in mind with tremolo-picked guitars saturated in distortion to the shrieking vocals of George Clark. However, the focus on "Sunbather" is not to be a "trve cvlt" worshipper of Satan; the band writes extended compositions like Mogwai, building up to grandiose apexes and crashing down. Texturally, vocals and instruments swirl together, reminiscent of shoegaze acts like My Bloody Valentine. Picture Belinda Butcher screaming her lungs out as Kevin Shields gets lost in a series of dissonances and dreamy guitar textures. That is the ending of the first cut "Dream House" off "Sunbather."

Lyrics — 7
Disparagers of Deafheaven often label them as a knock-off of Liturgy, but that statement could not be further from the truth. Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and his bandmates focused on musical intimacy, technical prowess, and ensemble-tightness on 2011's "Aesthetica." This album is not one filled with jams, rather, full-fledged soundscapes with heavy attention to composition and focus on instruments as a means to create a space for a listener to drift in and out of the ethereal. The odd fuzz that leads into the out-of-nowhere acoustic guitar on "Please Remember" serves as an excellent segue to "Vertigo," which finds Deafheaven spending ten and a half minutes of fervent instrumental tenacity. "Windows" finds Deafheaven exploring the portentous capacity of an indiscernible vocal sample played over piano overtones, reminiscent of the third movement of Stars Of The Lid's "Requiem for Dying Mothers." "Pecan Tree" finds the band carrying their listeners off to a peaceful exit: inquisitive piano keys lurk under layers of clean guitar and Blink-182-esque bass slowly building to one final lavish cadence before the end of the record.

Overall Impression — 8
In short, Deafheaven is suffering from a case of negative hype. If a listener removes all notions of "hipster black metal," even notions of genre in general, "Sunbather" is a truly magnificence achievement. The dreampop nuances of bands ranging from My Bloody Valentine to the Deftones are channeled and mingled with the ambient and post-rock stylings of Mogwai or Dirty Three. The genre wars may wage on, but there is no question that this band is pushing themselves as musicians and writers with this album as guitars swirl and screams echo to carry their listener off to a new realm.

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Very well written review - thank you, especially for discovering bands which are lesser known and suitable to UG audience.
    It makes me so happy that you always leave such positive feedback on my reviews and columns. Thank you, man.
    Agreed. Excellent review... I've never listened to this band but after reading this I honestly can't wait to check this album out.
    they're not lesser known, you're just too pre-occupied jerking it to big bands when there are BRILLIANT bands right under your nose. Every blog from here to hell has praised this.
    Also, stop using the ridiculous "only trve kvlt elitists hate this" strawman. Most of the people who defend this album accuse the critics of being ridiculous black metal purists without a single example to back it up. I frequent a lot of music boards, a lot of them with strong black metal communities, and I haven't seen one person who dislikes the album because it's not "trve kvlt."
    Nice Review! I totally agree that the black metal purists are getting way too defensive about this music and that if they just forgot about genres in general they would actually quite enjoy it. To me this music relates more to the shoegaze and post rock genres then it does to black metal, even though the core elements of black metal are still there I think it's much less prevalent then the band's other influences.
    Honestly, I can't understand why black metal "purists" are losing their minds over musicians like these. Burzum and Emperor have released some of my favorite records of all time, and Deafheaven doesn't "offend" me to any degree. To me, their shoegaze and post-rock influences in conjunction with the harsh vocals and tremolo-picked guitar make for some wonderful cross-genre stuff. Who knows where metal as a genre will be, say, five years from now with artists like these guys around?
    It's not just black metal purists: as a fan of shoegaze and post-rock and metal (as well as the recent wave of post-rock influenced black metal), I also find this album very bland. These guys are a pretty straightforward post-rock outfit who happened to throw in some black metal elements into their music; that's all well and good, but the end result is fairly boring, so I really don't care what genre the band is.
    Black metal fans are defensive, sure. But that doesn't mean there aren't people out there who need to throw every tag at every form of music under the sun. The same people who want to tell you not to obsess over a band's genre are the same ones who seem to think like calling a band "_____ metal" lends them credibility. 'True' black metal fans are going to shun this regardless, but there absolutely is a demographic of 'hipsters' who act like genres are liquid and ever changing. Sure, they evolve, but it takes more to make black metal than copying some techniques. The genre doesn't reflect the quality, so enjoy it if you do, hate it if you don't. It seems like the people who want this to be black metal are the same eople who seem to shun what the genre actually is in favor of outside elements, so that raises a few eyebrows for me. You get that a lot with Opeth fans who simultaneously think death metal is stale and that the band reinvented it.
    Unfortunately this band suffers the same fate as Krallice, and will always be referred to as hipster black metal for not being 'kvlt' enough. Jokes on them for missing out on amazing music.
    Personally, when someone says "hipster black metal" I check it out right away, based on my experiences so far! Nice album and good review.
    Fantastic album. It is not black metal though, and I'm not being an elitist: by definition, it simply is not black metal. It is screamo with blast beats and post-rock elements, anybody well-versed enough in these genres should recognize this instantly. Don't go around telling people this is black metal, because when I listened to this I went in thinking it was and hated it (it sounds dry, dull, and emotionless in black metal standards), but then I realized it wasn't and enjoyed it. That being said, we shouldn't be making a big deal out of a genre label.
    i agree. i don't like it (yet), but this is definitely more like some kind of screamo. with marginally less annoying vocals. tremolo picking and blastbeats does not a black metal song make.
    I think it sounds like Converge with less "WTF" and more melodic tones. But the vocals and drumming really remind me of Converge.
    It sounds good. I'm still fairly new to black metal. For the most part, I got into black metal with Cormorant's album Dwellings and the album Portal of I by Ne Obliviscaris. I've found other black metal acts since then, but when it comes to the really old black metal, I only really know Dissection. I've listened to some Venom and Bathory, but never got too into it. I think a lot of the new black metal coming out has been really interesting and will continue to be a great genre to watch out for.
    Brilliant stuff, haven't heard anything like it till now. Like the wall of sound where vocals just mix in with the instruments reminds me of my bloody valentine. But metal.
    Emenius Sleepus
    *hipster black metal* is not really black metal, and most of it is shit for starters. regardless of genres though, this is boring and unimaginative. heard it a million times from many bands that did it a lot better. review was ok, but focused too much on defending them from "black metal elitists" and how much they don't sound like Liturgy. If you're making a point of how much they don't sound like another band, it doesn't help to mention "that other band" in so many parts of your review. Focus on the music in question more, and trim away the unnecessary 'fat'.
    wow, SHOEGAZE. NEVER HEARD THAT BEFORE IN REGARDS TO THIS ALBUM. Fuck off, this review means shit when you sound exactly like every other ****ing review. It's post black metal with a positive vibe. This album is a god damn emotional rollercoaster that nobody expected.
    This is a fantastic album. >with a positive vibe y u mad tho?
    I'm not mad at that, I'm mad this is another stupid generic review with literally no effort put into it. The album is a god damn masterpiece with main sings split up by bizarre interludes and a drone metal sequence. It's majestic in its own way. Can't wait to see them on July 5th.
    The constant referring to other bands is a tad annoying, but come on, it wasn't that bad a review. At least it wasn't a UG staff review, lol. Very nice, I'd love to see them live some day. Bound to be mind-altering stuff.
    Honestly, I can agree with blgdinger to an extent. My intent, going in writing this review, was mainly to state that Deafheaven has value as an artist. The "hipster black metal" label shouldn't affect a listner's enjoyment of an artist. I felt that way when I discovered Liturgy a few years ago, but I feel like those two artists are drastically different despite their nearly constant comparison. Liturgy is focused on technique and ensemble-tightness, Deafheaven focuses on compositional structure. That aside, the artists I chose to reference were ones that I thought everyone would know. I detailed My Bloody Valentine so much because I know them well enough to draw a comparison. I feel like doing comparisons is integral in a review of any piece of media. Something like Dirty Three's "Ocean Songs" has held up against the test of time and people still enjoy that album largely today. The only reason I can't say that about "Sunbather" is because it is literally brand new. Who knows, maybe one day this album will be considered a classic. Then there's the flip side: it could be forgotten about completely within a matter of years.
    Hmm. Extremely noisy stuff but quite nice at same time. I've never gotten into black metal but the dream house track was good.
    I think this album is phenomenal. I've mostly been listening to it as background music while doing other things, although I have sat through and actually listened a few times. Not that they're at all related but this is my favorite album since I found the Nostalgia EP from Corelia.