Thursday, May 12, 2011

Roads to Judah v. Aesthetica

Roads to Judah v. Aesthethica

Hipsters have really been getting into black metal these days. I'm not quite sure what the draw is for them, but whatever it may be, they're finding their way into the more forward-thinking side of the genre, bringing far more major chords than we're used to with them. Two bands in particular have drawn my recent attention: Deafheaven and Liturgy.

When you see Deafheaven's band photo on Metal Archives, with the regular-looking guys in V-necks and button-up shirts with skateboards and a Che Guevara poster in the background, your hipster alarm should go off immediately. The cover art to their first full-length, Roads to Judah, isn't helping much either, resembling as it does the art accompanying Final Fantasy VI (formerly III in the US). Nor is the last review of it I read, which called it "extremely hip". I dared it anyway, despite my past bad experiences with post-metal, because what I heard intrigued me.

The first four minutes of the album did not bode well. Gentle drumming and pretty, shimmering guitar chords. It sounds like that crap album Anathema released last year. But afterwards, things definitely start to get better. They speed up into a full-on tremolo picking assault, with extremely aggressive drumming. The vocals are entirely in a generic (but good) black metal rasp--no clean singing here. All four songs are well-composed, with the gradual evolution, subtlety, and balance appropriate to post-metal. It's aggressive as hell, 90% of the time, but it still manages to sound pretty, like some kind of delicate flower filled with deadly poison. It gives the music a morose but still angry emotional texture. The drumming is far more engaging than most post-black metal tends to be. It's aggressive even more often than the guitar, with plenty of fills and a wide variety of blasts.

There are some downsides of course. Honestly you won't notice the bass most of the time, and since the guitars stay in the higher range there's very little heaviness to be found. The middle two songs are excellent, but the beginning of the opener and most of the closer sound like hipster bullshit, right up through the piano outro.

Compare to Liturgy. Their band photo should not only trigger your hipster alarm, but also your gag reflex. But let's try to listen with our ears again, shall we? Their style has sometimes been called "transcendental" black metal, supposedly intended to draw you to a higher state of consciousness (or some similar bullshit) through repetition. There's plenty of dissonance to go along with the major chords, and all the vocals are screechy. The drums are pretty generic and boring, but I could get past that. The album opens with some glitch-like sounds, and goes into the excellent "High Gold". But after that point, everything goes downhill. Your first hint would be the ridiculous clean singing at the beginning of "True Will", but then the jubilant mood of "Returner" proves that everything's out of whack.

Metal has never been accused of being pretentious; usually, it's accused of being juvenile. This album is pretentious. "Generation" is 7 minutes of what's basically one riff repeated over and over, without vocals. But "Sun of Light" really drives the "we think we're capital-A Artists" point home, with its extended screw-off tangent and, to cap it off, 45 seconds of silence in the middle of the fucking album. By the time "Glory Bronze" comes on, I felt like I was watching some ridiculous piece of "performance art". And you have to hear the annoying a capella of "Glass Earth" to believe it.

The Verdict: I find in favor of Deafheaven. People you don't normally think of as metalheads can bring new blood to the genre. If a hipster is anything like the guys in Deafheaven--regular guys who want to try out some forward-thinking black metal--I'll welcome them to the fold. Roads to Judah gets 3.5 out of 5 stars. But if a hipster is more like the guys in Liturgy, with a full-blown sense of irony and casual superiority, then they can rot. 1 out of 5 stars for Aesthetica.


  1. I think the appeal of black metal for the hipster crowd has a lot to do with the obscurity of the groups involved. I've discussed black metal vs death metal with a hipster, and his reasoning seemed to boil down to "I think death metal is more mainstream."

  2. I can't believe how much traffic this post generated. All seemingly because Liturgy has provoked an enormous backlash. They probably deserve hate, but if you're going around searching for something you don't like and drumming up more hatred, then you're just playing into their hands and giving them more attention. (I only review stuff I hate because I didn't know I was going to hate it to begin with.)

    And to some of the comments I've read elsewhere referring to this post: No, I don't really know anything about shoegaze except to the extent it's touched on the metal world. Just thinking about the idea of non-metal shoegaze gets me bored; listening to it would be unbearable.

  3. from what i gather from working in a record store and observing this new found interest that indie rock dudes have with black metal it seems that black metal in particular is easier for them to seperate what is not "metal" from what is and to make it more comparable to what their used to. ie the artsy-ness, droning, repetition and whatnot. of course being hipsters they are also into the "obscurity" of the whole thing. death metal still seems like hipster kryptonite since its innate "metalness" seemed harder to remove.

  4. It's really ridiculous to see tr00 black metallers get offended by this album so much. It's a classic juvenile "no outsiders" complex. Their image is not brutal, they don't wear corpse paint, they don't write retarded pseudo-satanist lyrics and such.

    It wouldn't tick me so much if the "true" black metal scene isn't home to some of the most idiotic, discriminating people full of dangerous attitudes, such as racism and extreme opposition to Christianity, to the point of violence and destruction.

    Yeah, I love Mayhem and Burzum, but let's face it, these are not people I would hang out with. They're deluded morons. Let's drop the bullshit, a genre is not defined by it's attitude and lyrics. It's defined by it's sound. And I love when a band tries to evolve beyond retarded conceptions of what "should" be metal.

    The idea behind Liturgy is shit, and I'm not sure if these guys are even serious, but I like the album, it's full of unique sounding riffs. And that's all I need to listen to it, go figure.

    1. I couldn't agree with you more! Politics in metal? Who cares? Either you like it or you don't. I don't know how I am classified; just an old guy who has listened to a lot of metal. Both these albums are interesting listens.

  5. Thanks for that. I've never understood why lyrics can define a music genre, and anyone who thinks it does--well, they're wrong. Why you like Aesthetica is beyond me, but I otherwise agree with everything you said.