Recently, through some internet surfing, I came across the album Sunbather, by Deafheaven. I knew literally nothing about it besides its pretty strong critical acclaim, and cool cover art, so I went in blind and gave it a listen. The soothing pinks and oranges of said cover art told me their music would be smooth, and poppy; something I don’t listen to too often, but a nice change of pace. This meant I was not necessarily anticipating what I would eventually hear; a loud, intense journey through black metal… I guess it did end up being a change of pace. Confused, but intrigued, as someone who doesn’t particularly listen to this subgenre of metal, I sat down and did my best to come up with an album review anyways. My thoughts and opinions on it surprised even me.
The first thing someone will probably point out when listening to one of these songs is the vocal pattern. The raw and intense screaming of lead singer George Clarke are similar to those stereotypical “screamo” bands most people think of. Most audiences are probably not huge fans of this, and I myself don’t typically care for this vocal style, but it didn’t end up being a problem for me personally. The vocals aren’t featured in a majority of the album, and when they are, they’re more featured as a background to the instrumental than anything else. So for me, it wasn’t taking away from the rest of it musically, and was pretty easy to ignore. I see it more as a result of the genre than anything else.
Now that the elephant is out of the room, we can finally discuss the rest of the album.
The instrumentals are really what carry their sound, and make it incredibly epic, creative, progressive, and interesting. The album is filled with 4 enormous songs, and 3 shorter interludes between them, making it a lengthy journey with many breaks. Each song starts off in its own unique way, goes through many epic musical sections, and eventually reaches a conclusion that blends into the next piece. The music, and the album as a whole is very complex, which doesn’t really allow it to get old, because it’s always switching something up. This makes it really interesting to listen to all together, but I imagine each individual song would probably sound worse out of context. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind. The musical flexibility of Deafheaven was very impressive, especially out of a band coming out of this genre. The album features everything from piano and acoustic guitar, to the typical heavy bass and guitar riffs, to spoken word/recordings of speeches. It’s incredibly diverse.
The album is filled with moments that remind me of other bands. For example, towards the middle or end of “Sunbather,” there’s a repeating guitar chord that sound like something out of a Cure song. Also, some of the interludes sound exactly like the Velvet Underground. The different genres they cover are astounding.
This diversity and style make it really hard to view as black metal, though. I later learned that the band itself doesn’t really subscribe to the belief that they’re a black metal or shoegaze metal band. They claim they don’t fit the look or the aesthetic, and I completely agree. There’s certain moments where their musical style completely shifts into a different genre, and even when it’s heavy metal, the darkness of black metal isn’t there. I constantly found myself saying “This is heavy, but it’s not dark.” when listening to the album. The lighter, laid back guitar chords combine with raw vocals and driving drums to make epic, victorious, and even happy ballads. They’re just much heavier than normal. But I think this makes the music so much more interesting. Taking a genre, and sticking with the sound, but shifting the mood creates a very fresh take on something typically overdone.
The work of Deafheaven on their album Sunbather is outstanding. After hearing the beginning of the intro song, “Dream House,” I was unsure what I would end up thinking, but I was pleasantly surprised. Pushing the boundaries of the genre, they take an avant-garde approach to the world of black metal, and it makes it intriguing. The biggest problems I had with the album were the vocal style (I eventually got over this), and the fact that the ending is a fade out instead of a satisfying ending. And if the worst parts of an album are the ending, and having to google lyrics (which I already do for the most part), it’s a pretty good album. I’m thinking this is an 8.5 out of 10.
Listen to it yourself and let me know what you think, and tune in for more album reviews soon on the way!
Favorite Track(s): “Vertigo”
Least Favorite Track(s): None really