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
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
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
This album, that never terrorizes and certainly never disgusts,
could mark the moment when black metal became not only mainstream
but the antithesis of itself.
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