Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Deafheaven: Sunbather (2013)

So They’re Hipsters. Does It Matter?

When I reviewed Deafheaven’s first album, I simultaneously reviewed Liturgy’s Aesthethica, musing on whether it really matters that they’re hipsters. OK, it may be taken as a matter of public record that I don’t really know what defines a hipster any better than anyone else does, but they sure look like hipsters. And if you Google them, you’re going to run across Pitchfork, AV Club, and PopMatters before you’re going to run across anything on a legit metal site.

Regardless of hipster status, I gave Roads to Judah 3.5 out of 5 stars. I concluded that in the case of Deafheaven, “I’ll welcome them to the fold.” Now we’re confronted with their second album, both highly anticipated and highly divisive. Are they still worthy of the attention of metalheads, or should we leave them to the more adventurous of the indie rock crowd?

I am admittedly out of my depth in parsing the influences on display here. It could be a hint of late Deftones at the start of the title track and Agallochian acoustic in “Please Remember,” but I don’t doubt there are more apt comparisons. I understand what I’m hearing is black metal mixed with shoegaze and/or post-rock, but it doesn’t sound like the typical post-black metal I’m used to hearing (early Altar of Plagues, etc.). Instead I’ll focus on what I do know. Deafheaven build their music in the tremolo-picking, rasp/screaming, blast beat-laden architectural style of black metal, but they are using building materials alien to the genre. Their major chord-infused “black metal” (if it can still be called that) is still angry, but it isn’t nihilistic. It’s morose, yet hopeful. Uplifting, even.

That hasn’t changed much since Roads, but their songwriting has improved drastically. Shorter songs (9 to 14 minutes) with more memorable melodies are the key, and these songs are excellent. Really, truly fantastic. Sadly, they lose me on the interludes. Again, they’re not using anything unknown to me—piano, clean guitar, backmasking, and spoken word samples—but they’re not really intended for me, or any other metalheads, I suspect. Plus, they're too damn long, really interrupting the flow of the album.

I’m willing to overlook the fact they’re not my metal brethren, and the finishing touches don’t speak to me. The proper songs on here are great, and they’re different from anything else I’ll hear in 2013. That’s more than enough.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars


  1. This is interesting, but I'm not sure how long I could listen to it.

  2. If that's your concern, then the full album is going to present a problem. Unless perhaps the interludes would help you . . . I'm sure they will help some people, but to me it's like watching a movie on TV and getting really into it, and, suddenly, Flo is hawking Progressive Insurance.

  3. I kind of love that analogy.

  4. Thanks! I was just re-reading some of my old reviews, and I found this gem: "That's like the Cadillac of analogies, right there." Hmmm. In isolation it's not as funny. My bits of humor work better peppered into a more sober context, when you don't expect it, dark comedy style.