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.