South of Deafheaven
The San Francisco quintet became some sort of pariah with Sunbather (2013), an immense album clad in pink and done by dudes with short hair who aren't your typical metalheads, big deal, right? This record was praised by indie rock magasines and divided the sometimes unfair metal kingdom. I'll admit I had my reservations at first but the quality of their music convinced me of their relevance, I think they became trendy to hate for the trve black metal crowd who prefer the old (and tired) tactics. With that said, Deafheaven has nothing to prove to anyone, perhaps they didn't win over the crowd they wanted to but with New Bermuda, they proved that they're not a metal band by accident.
I thought the direction they took with this new full length was a bit surprising, I was expecting them to move forward into post rock territories by praising Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor but the boys moved towards an even more metallic direction than Sunbather. It's like Kerry McCoy had to prove that he grew while listening to Metallica (he's always wearing these band shirts on stage to prove that he's one of us!) when he was a kid. Thing is, Deafheaven wrote a wide array of super metal riffs for this new album (listen to the metal parts of “Luna” or “Come Back”.) They really put the “metal” into post black metal with these almost Slayer-esque riffs. A complaint I've heard about their previous album is that while the post rock moments were enjoyable, the metal ones weren't but I think it's somewhat the opposite here (to a lesser degree). Some of the calmer moments feel a bit forced or even cheap (like the piano conclusion of the opening track “Brought to the Water). Still, the mix of pop influences with metal is done tastefully, it's almost as if Savage Garden decided to included Norwegian black metal influences in their music at times and I think it's great! The musicianship is impressive, the dual guitars are mixing intricate atmospheric licks with heavy hitting riffs and the drumming is particularly awesome and can switch perfectly between all the styles required.
While George Clarke (a strong dark guru presence on stage) fits the music, I think he's too buried underneath everything on here and a little variety would had been nice. His lyrics are pretentious, that's a given but they're not bad at all. He's not the most interesting vocalist ever but he doesn't overstay his welcome and he lets the songs flow. The five tracks are all between eight and ten minutes and they're all dense, there's not a lot of filler if you actually appreciate their softer, instrumental bits (the introduction of “Baby Blue” is quite stunning and so is its proggy guitar soloing midway through). Sure, some of the transitions between their styles aren't always top notch but there's barely any bands evolving in such crossover styles that are truly proficient at these, Deafheaven are certainly better than most though.
Even if it's different than Sunbather, I doubt their detractors will find something they like here and I bet they will not even give this album a chance. Deafheaven aren't the best band of their generation and they didn't reinvent black metal on their own (Altar of Plagues, Fen or Ash Borer are all their contemporaries and are a bit better) but they're nowhere bad or the “worst thing to ever happen to metal”.