June 1, 2013

Album Review: Deafheaven's Sunbather

Too reluctant and revering to the genre’s legacy to be labeled a black metal band and far more premeditated to be thrown into the same sea as today's over-diluted post-rock waves, critics and listeners alike have a difficult time pinning Deafheaven under any one banner. They’re signed to Deathwish Inc., the venerable hardcore label that has brought us fully loaded listens by Converge and American Nightmare over the past decade, but with the exception of frontman George Clarke’s scream, he and Kerry McCoy’s lush, loud swells of emotional thunder are almost too beautiful to be considered complimentary to fellow up and coming Cali thrashers Touché Amoré and Loma Prieta. In 2011, the San Francisco duo’s debut Roads to Judah was by all accounts a formidable start that assembled their splintered influences within the same play, but hadn’t yet smoothed over their jagged transitions enough to blur where they parted. On Sunbather, the band’s sophomore effort, Deafheaven venture beyond the threshold of merely succeeding at this, claiming a sound to call theirs alone, but also creating a body of music so powerful and specific to the individual self, it will mean something entirely different to every person who experiences it.

You can soak Sunbather in weather conditions completely opposite to what the album's title and art suggest (which was designed by Touché Amoré 's Nick Steinhardt and reflects "what it looks like when you’re laying in the park and your eyes are closed and you’re looking at the sun," according to Clarke) and still find a captivating connection that floors every cell inside of you -- A fete that speaks to the album's real, raw and most viscerally human characteristics. In an interview with metal auteur Brandon Stosuy, Clarke spoke of Sunbather's themes being inspired by bittersweet daylight revelations that represent an intensely varied degree of emotions ranging from sadness, frustration, and striving for perfectionism. Through mountainous peaks and its saccharine valley interludes, Sunbather's ambitions are stitched together through a moody ebb and flow that achieve the latter.

Its opener, the 9-minute-long "Dream House" is a turbulent head charge of luminously blissed guitars that tear open a sky which Clark, McCoy and octopusian studio percussionist Dan Tracy sound comfortably wide-eyed amid their high altitude escape from the ground before the track's exhaling comedown and outro of uprising U2isms, only to allow gravity to take hold of their bodies and lengthen the distance between them and the sun in the balmy plucks and piano trot of "Irresistible." "Sunbather" is the connective tissue between the LP's front-half and massive conclusion that manifests Deafheaven's dynamic metamorphosis through eruptive verb, broken sonance and unquelled rhythm at all levels that merits them as more than incomparable to Emperor, Envy, Jesu, Mogwai, My Bloody Valentine, et al. "Please Remember"'s ambient buzzsawing and vacant gaze segues into a patient composition, the lonesome wanderer and violently shredded "Vertigo," while "Windows" steps without caution into a path of questioning existential unknowns and beyond through a fantastically threatening spoken-word that conquers at unsettling faith. As faith would have it, the two-fold conclusion "The Pecan Tree" enters those gates of Hell and exits Sunbather above ground with an accepting daze of tranquil self-realized reaffirming mortality.

I initially took in Sunbather not while on my back lying in the grass, eyelids closed and facing a cloudless sky, but rather during a tremendous lightning show that transformed the LP into a visually stunning soundtrack. For all the talk about what Deafheaven is and what Deafheaven is not, their sophomore effort is immensely magnificent and transcendental in both its emotional weight and bold ingenuity that marks a watershed moment for not only them, but music as a whole where listeners from all shades of the spectrum can interpret the work of Clarke and McCoy as they see fit from their perspective. Not many albums come along like Sunbather that succeed beyond the reach of what's obvious from the surface level, and for that Deafheaven have made perhaps the most earnest masterpiece of this decade.

Deafheaven's Sunbather will be released June 11, 2013 on Deathwish Inc.

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