Deafheaven is a black metal band that is hated by the black metal community because they wear pea coats.
The contradiction of Deafheaven is apparent in their black metal meets shoegaze music, their Shakespeare-inspired name and their total exile from the black metal community, of which outsiders consider them trailblazers.
Deafheaven has always been polarizing in music. Black metal purists disregard them as hipster, poser trash, while other music circles have embraced them with open arms. This conversation about authenticity spurred from Deafheaven borrowing from other genres like shoegaze, indie rock and post-metal.
Deafheaven became critical darlings after their 2013 sophomore album “Sunbather.” “Sunbather” was the decisive black metal album that caused the debate over authentic black metal, considering its decidedly un-black metal aesthetic. But, while purists turned their nose up at “Sunbather,” this album acted as an olive branch from the abrasive, clearly elitist black metal community to other music fans.
Imagine black metal fans’ disdain when the authoritative voice of the “hipster, poser trash” community Pitchfork gave “Sunbather” 8.9/10 and ranked it as the sixth best album of 2013, sandwiched between Daft Punk and Danny Brown.
Naturally, Deafheaven’s new album, “New Bermuda,” has been one of the most anticipated albums of 2015. The big question for this release was if this new effort could live up to the seminal “Sunbather.”
Like the music on “New Bermuda,” the answer is nuanced.
Deafheaven could have easily made “Sunbather, pt. 2,” put a bow on it and called it a day. Instead, they realized their strengths from the past and utilized them in a different way on “New Bermuda.” With this album, they move forward by seemingly moving backward.
“New Bermuda” harkens back to the metal background of singer George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy, who met through a shared love for Slayer in high school. Compared to “Sunbather,” the guitars are brought forward and have a more prominent position in the music, making the music less eclectic, but this is the aesthetic of “New Bermuda.” It is more jarring, more aggressive and showcases more of what Deafheaven excels in — atmospheric black metal — but through a lens zoomed all the way in. Deafheaven realized their strengths from “Sunbather” and built on them here, and it is in your face.
Gone are the five-minute-long skits and all-acoustic songs. This album chugs along at a blistering pace. On “Luna,” just when the listener starts to fall into a noise-induced trance, McCoy jolts you back to attention with a lone, one-measure guitar spotlight, then the rest of the band reengages full force. This is the style of most of the album.
However, what sets this apart from any typical metal album is the Deafheaven, genre-bending flare. Bouts of high energy metal are split up by interludes of calming acoustic guitars or shoegaze. On “Gifts For the Earth,” the music waxes and wanes from Clarke growling over DIIV-style shoegaze to black metal to acoustic guitars, tambourines and piano. Aside from shoegaze, Deafheaven repurposes guitar tropes to mimic other genres like hair metal and new wave. This genre exploration makes the music accessible to those unfamiliar with black metal and gives the listener a much needed breather from the explosive metal.
Is “New Bermuda” better than “Sunbather” is not a valuable question. “Sunbather” allowed Deafheaven to find their voice, now like Clarke, they are screaming with swollen vocal chords. “New Bermuda” is a shouting call-to-arms for innovation in black metal and music in general. Here Deafheaven emphasizes their former strongest qualities in McCoy’s guitar playing, giving it a larger focus, and creating metal with a twist. This makes for a genre-Frankenstein that only relents during somber, reflective interludes. This dichotomy, and the band’s decision to nudge more into metal territory, while retaining their atmospheric aesthetic, produced an album more than deserving of my first perfect score.
Final Score: 5/5
Collegian music critic Danny Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DannyDBishop.