Chances are, if you’ve listened to them before, you have a very strong opinion about Deafheaven.
The blackgaze (i.e. the combination of black metal and shoegaze music) band first splashed onto the scene with their absolutely stunning — yet incredibly divisive — sophomore record “Sunbather” in 2013.
Some vehemently criticized the band, saying their blend of the harsh, cold sounds of black metal with the spacey warmth of shoegaze somehow watered down both genres. (It’s worth noting here that many of these critics were the sort who want to keep black metal as “cult” as possible, with dark lyrics about Satan and burning down churches or whatever.)
Others, and I’m sure you’ll see soon which camp I fall into, praised the band for pushing genre boundaries and making two sounds accessible to a whole new group of people.
Now, in 2018, Deafheaven is back with its fourth full-length album, “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love,” and I firmly believe it’s the best and most engaging effort the band has put out.
The record technically releases this Friday, but was made available for streaming via NPR’s First Listen program. If you’re reading this before July 13, you can head over there to hear the album.
The beautiful thing about the record is that it sees Deafheaven go further into both of its two sounds than it ever has, sometimes even on the same track.
On the gargantuan “Canary Yellow,” the band is absolutely thunderous. George Clarke’s shrieked vocals rise over a din of cluttered blast beat drums and tremolo-picked guitars.
“Staring out onto the earthly, pottery of/Pottery of existence, climbing light/Climbing light vines to heaven,” Clarke screams over the chaos. “Clay ribbons descend/Swirl downward against.”
Deafheaven’s lyrics, while typically obfuscated by Clarke’s screeches and the musical entropy, are often some of the most beautiful to be found in black metal, if you take the time to read them — I find it a joy to read the lyrics to their songs while I listen.
The early parts of “Canary Yellow” are about as black metal as the band can get, but as the song stretches over its 12-minute runtime, it sees them transcend, at least instrumentally, into the bounds of alternative rock, thanks to triumphant guitar solos that would almost sound at home on a Jimmy Eat World track.
All the while, Clarke keeps screaming his head off, even in counterpoint to a clean vocal closing section, one of the few in the band’s discography.
The track is mind-bending, with all the ways it speeds through genres across its runtime. In many ways, it’s a microcosm of the whole record. A later lengthy track, “Glint,” does a similar ramble through genres, this time closing with a guitar solo that comes out of the Jimmy Page playbook.
Midway through the album, the band fully abandons black metal for “Near,” a track that brings to mind bands like Explosions in the Sky or My Bloody Valentine much more than black metal heavy-hitters like Burzum or Mayhem.
Then, they tap into a sound they never have before on “Night People”: goth rock. Enlisting the help of the current queen of the genre, Chelsea Wolfe, the band plunges into an eerie darkness that is absolutely beautiful.
“Ordinary Corrupt Human Love” is by no means an easy record to listen to. With the way Deafheaven gleefully dabbles in different sounds, it can be difficult to process it all on the first listen.
I know I’m still reeling from this record. But unlike many people who might be angry with Deafheaven not being “real” black metal, I’m reeling because of the album’s sheer beauty.