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Released: Jun 11, 2013
Genre: Post-Black Metal, Shoegaze
Label: Deathwish Inc
Number Of Tracks: 7
If a listener removes all notions of "hipster black metal," even notions of genre in general, "Sunbather" is a truly magnificence achievement.
jazznstuff1001, on june 14, 2013 5 of 8 people found this review helpful
Sound: 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." // 9
Lyrics: 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. // 7
Overall Impression: 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. // 8
mada1990, on july 22, 2013 1 of 5 people found this review helpful
Sound: I finally got my hands on this album and let me start by saying that whatever it is that Deafheaven is doing is awesome, but it is in no way anywhere close to black metal. Bands like Neurosis are closer to the being labeled as the genre than these guys, in fact, I would even go so far as to say that if you stripped "Sunbather" of it's blast beats and tremolo picking, it would essentially be a over-glorified Explosions In The Sky album. I find it really funny that people immediately flock to the "black metal" label with these guys just because they have smashing snares and fast guitar riffs, when it's actually more closely related to post-metal and shoegaze. That being said, the musicians are extremely talented in their song structure composition, much like many other post-metal outfits. Their instrumental tracks really add a deep, emotional aspect to the music with the spoken poetic verses read over this mesmerizing, ambient background instrumentalization that immediately leaves comparisons to post-rockers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The heavier sections of each track, aside from a few spots, are mostly happy or pretty sounding, often favoring different major scale changes rather than the dark and gloomy atmospheres typically found in black metal, which is why I say there's really nothing "black metal" about this album. Songs often take pummeling leaps as you are continuously bludgeoned by fast paced guitar riffs and furious blast beats throughout, almost hitting the point where the listener would be annoyed until collapsing effortlessly into these beautiful ambient interludes to calm the ears and make for time to breathe and recollect what just happened musically. // 7
Lyrics: The lyrics are the major part of this album that stray it so far away from the black metal label everyone seems to throw on these guys. Usually, black metal likes to conjure themes of melancholia, human suffering, nature, and dark abstract concepts, while Deafheaven, for this album in particular, have taken a liking to more metropolitan themes and lyrical content that more closely resembles early '90s emo bands and post-hardcore. While the black metal "shrieking" is a pretty familiar sound to black metal lovers, the recording for the vocals has such a distant, lo-fi sound quality that it's hardly decipherable throughout the majority of the album, which has its ups and downs. On one hand, you wish you could hear the well written lyrics being portrayed in the song, but on another level, the vocals could potentially take away from the music and what the musicians are trying to achieve. // 5
Overall Impression: If you are looking for a black metal album, walk away because you certainly won't find it here. But if you are looking for a new, fresh take on the typically slow moving post-metal genre, this is a great album for you. It essentially takes the post-metal/post-rock formula of musical composition and speeds everything up from what is often slow, doomy, and sludgey.
I do enjoy this album and I think it's well worth a listen. Do I think it's anywhere as good as what people are making it out to be? No. Not exactly. I think Deafheaven as the potential to become either something really excellent or something that gets lost amongst everything else that's out there. Sometimes, this album seems really interesting and refreshing to listen to after listening to the same crap all the time. But other times, I can't help but wonder if these guys are really great musicians or just a bunch of metalcore/corewhatever kids that figured out how to tremolo instead of chug open chords all the time. // 8