(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Roads To Judah (2011) , 6.5/10
Sunbather (2013) , 7/10
New Bermuda (2015), 6/10
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (2018), 6.5/10
Infinite Granite (2021), 5.5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Deafheaven, the project of San Francisco's vocalist George Clarke and songwriter/guitarist Kerry McCoy, fused black metal and shoegaze-pop on the four lengthy suites of Roads To Judah (Deathwish, 2011). The twelve-minute Violet was the prototype of what would come in the future: dense sheets of guitar distortion soon joined by a hurricane of blastbeats and beastly growls, but soon settling for a martial melodic elegy. Their strategy, best personified by Language Games, was to build up inbearable intensity and then relent releasing heartbreaking melodies that resemble religious hymns (albeit sung in the voice of a werewolf who is digesting viscera). If the torrential rain of distortions of Unrequited simply keeps digging into the human psyche for almost ten minutes with no mercy, the equally long Tunnel Of Trees opens with tragic overtones and stops halfway to recharge and create maximum tension for the grand finale, thus implementing the core strategy on a larger scale.

Mostly the much hyped (i.e. accessible and even melodic) follow-up, Sunbather (Deathwish, 2013), featuring new drummer Daniel Tracy, betrayed the influence of French black metal, but the poetic skills of that school are replaced here with sheer sonic density. Dream House (9:14) is the manifesto of their melodramatic singing, intelligent blastbeats, anthemic guitar riffs and thick production, and of the way they can slow down the music to prepare for a majestic finale. After the first pause Sunbather (10:16) delivers another slab of solemn metal.
The acoustic neoclassical interludes, notably Irresistible (3:13), are not exactly revolutionary (towards the end Please Remember seems to wink at Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and the collage of Windows is beyond trivial in the age of digital music). This is obviously a case in which "black metal" is nothing more than a convenient label.
The opening of Vertigo (14:37) is so imbued with medieval pomp that it recalls King Crimson's first album (with the mellotron replaced by the guitar). Finally a whirlwind of guitar distortions (in the fashion of dream-pop of the 1980s) announces that the metal part is about to take off, and what follows is mainly the stubborn repetition of the same scream, chord and drumbeat, a fact which, at best, can evoke an Indian raga (at worst, a Scottish military fanfare), and then it all goes up in flames as a frantic shoegazing firestorm. Alas, the piece continues for a few more minutes repeating the same pattern with virtually no vibrancy.
The Pecan Tree (11:26) seems to exist only to display the range that the band can afford: a first half that is all supersonic blastbeats and massive distortions (credit goes to the guitarist for maintaining an elegiac mood throughout his maelstrom), a second half that is all gentle and timid, and a third part that synthetizes the two in a martial hummable finale.
This album, that never terrorizes and certainly never disgusts, could mark the moment when black metal, or, better, "blackgaze", became not only mainstream but the antithesis of itself.

New Bermuda (Anti, 2015) is heavier and darker, and generally less "shoegazing", than its predecessor, but it is still a very controlled kind of "heaviness". The only redeeming grace of the opener, Brought to the Water (8:37), is McCoy's lyrical guitar solo a` la Pink Floyd. Replace Clarke's growl with Ian Curtis' de profundis (Joy Division) or Robert Smith's screech (Cure) and Gifts for the Earth (8:22) could be a dark-punk piece of the 1980s, replete with atmospheric guitars and gothic overtones. romantic piano-tinged coda. McCoy's serious assault begins in Luna (10:14), where the guitar's frenzied raga-like strumming leads into a hysterical percussive quasi-grindcore explosion. After six minutes, however, the music pauses and delicate guitar tones take over, leading to an agonizing angst-filled coda. Come Back (9:16) inflicts more damage via a relentless collective bombardment, but after five minutes the piece slows down in a Pink Floyd-ian haze and never recovers. The post-rock influence is evident in the multi-part structure of Baby Blue (10:06): a lengthy dreamy overture, a solemn, martial, "wah-wah", Eric Clapton-ian guitar solo; a granitic metal section propelled by menacing panzer riffs; and an eerie coda. Despite its ostensible "heaviness", the album marks another step towards a melodic style. The biggest impediment to global acceptance is the singer's growl, which is also the last vestige of their black-metal roots.

Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Anti, 2018) abandons that "heavy" temptation and returns to their blackgaze with more confidence than ever. There is plenty of energetic playing, as demonstrated by the bracing post-metal epic of Honeycomb (11:04) whose guitar mayhem and relentless pounding (note the imitation of the Beatles' I Feel Fine in the mix) sounds like a nuclear version of the Smashing Pumpkins with a masterful way to slide into a dreamy coda. That coda segues smoothly into the two midtempo shoegazing minutes that open Canary Yellow (12:17), another textural impressionistic McCoy showpiece but perhaps a bit too theatrical with its endless ups and downs and its choral singalong ending. The cinematic flavor of these lengthy compositions peaks in Glint (10:57), another piece that opens with McCoy's calm hypnotic strumming before eruptic in violent metal spasms, and that relies on McCoy's feverish distortion merging with Clarke's superhuman angst, ending with some Led Zeppelin-ian pyrotechnics. The limitations of this method are instead demonstrated by Worthless Animal (10:07), whose "romantic" opening doesn't sound sincere, and whose transition from calm to volcanic feels monotonous instead of gripping. The heavy Honeycomb and the neurotic Glint are worthy additions to the band's canon, but, as expected, the band moves one step closer to the pop mainstream with Near, a slowcore ballad a` la Mazzy Star, with the piano-enhanced elegy Night People, a spectral male-female duet, and with the atmospheric power-ballad You Without End (replace Clarke's growl with Freddie Mercury's operatic scream and you get Queen).

Despite the energetic singles From the Kettle Onto the Coil (2014) and Black Brick (2019), Deafheaven continued to soften up, and in fact moved towards arena rock and shoegaze-pop, on Infinite Granite (2021), where the old furious guitar attacks were replaced Kerry McCoy's elegant riffs and solos. Villain and the eight-minute Mombasa revive shoegaze-metal while Lament for Wasps is almost contemplative ambient rock.

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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