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Deafheaven | ‘Sunbather’

We actually need bands like Deafheaven.

There always needs to be a band that divides opinions amongst metal circles like they have done. It can make for healthy debate.

Mind you, it can also make for mindless blathering too. Whichever way you look at it though, the San Franciscan black metal… shoegaze… post rock band (lobbing these three genres into one sentence has become a cliché at this point) are most likely here to stay.

They need to be commended for that in many ways. 2011’s ‘Roads to Judah’ opened up a lot of avenues for them, after their reasonably impressive demo, and pushed them to the forefront of this post black metal scene.

But let’s not forget something. Deafheaven only formed in 2010.

They’ve scaled to this lofty position remarkably fast and while the band, helmed by the duo of guitarist Kerry McCoy and vocalist George Lesage Clark are clearly talented songsmiths, a great deal of this ascension has been down a whole lot of hype and hyperbole, which is both to their benefit and detriment.

On this new album, ‘Sunbather’, the cracks begin to appear.

‘Sunbather’ sees the band attempt to expand a great deal on the compositions of ‘Roads to Judah’. The heavy parts are heavier and the pretty parts are prettier and all that lark.

It rings true though. Kerry McCoy’s guitar playing is glistening as much it is piercing and the light and dark shades are augmented by vocalist George Lesage Clark and his relentless shriek.

However, Clark is a double edged sword for Deafheaven. He has obviously got a set of iron clad lungs on him and anyone who has seen Deafheaven live will attest to his imposing stage presence but the lack of versatility in his shriek and scream vocals is the album’s weak link.

While the guitar work’s MO is clearly set out, McCoy will still occasionally weave lush ambient passages to counteract the reliable tremolos and the ‘wall of sound’ work he’s taken from the obvious shoegaze influences. As a result, the vocals cause this album to become monotonous and one dimensional at times.

At first though, the band erupt with stunning grandeur on the album’s opening number ‘Dream House’ but soon that cathartic rush is lost when the band start to steady themselves and recoil into a formula. This is made all too clear by the mid-way point, ‘Vertigo’, a 14 minute jaunt that appears to be intended as the record’s majestic crown jewel but it becomes a slog and is predictable with its strident but ghostly guitars and Clark’s scream, which exposed to in the wrong frame of mind could become irritating.

The salvaging comes with the last song, ‘The Pecan Tree’, which crawls and crawls to an, admittedly, foreseen crescendo, borrowing from the arsenals of Envy and Swedish post rockers pg.lost, but it pulls you in to pay attention one last time, having possibly lost you a few minutes earlier.

With two peaks and an unfortunately lengthy trough, ‘Sunbather’ has shown up just a few too many flaws in what was a potentially strong outing.

It’s a good album nevertheless, there are even moments during those two peaks where you’ll think it’s a very good album but it’s a not a great album, and that’s an important distinction to make with this band.

2.3/5 – Jonathan Keane ::: 14/06/13

  1. “It’s a good album nevertheless, there are even moments during those two peaks where you’ll think it’s a very good album but it’s a not a great album, and that’s an important distinction to make with this band.” That doesn´t make sence with your score at all, canyou explain please?

  2. The opening and closing tracks are clear standouts, which are very good. But the rest of the album lets it down. If there was a little more consistency in quality in all the middle tracks then it would be a great album.

  3. “Alcest gone topshop” – Ouch! 😀

  4. greaterfool Says:

    A good album should be scored for what it is. Any score under 3 is poor. I think the reviewer has let the hype cloud their judgement here. More a case of not wanting to like it thus the ridiculously poor score for a good album.
    I’ve listened to this only the once and ordered it on the strength of it. Some reviews have this as potential album of the year! Maybe Sunbather isn’t metal enough for a decent score here. Puzzling review.

  5. haven’t listened to the album yet, but the review sums up the vox exactly the way I’d view em. Having seen em live, the vox overpower what is otherwise very enjoyable. However, 2.3 is a score that suggests a mediocre effort and I’m sure the album prob warrants better even taking the vox out of the equation. As said, a score under 3 means it’s a poor album.

  6. earl grey Says:

    Greaterfool – in fact any album under 3 is not poor. 3 is by definition above average, given that average is 2.5, which the score and the review duly reflect.

  7. The score still doesn’t make sense though in the context of the final sentence. “Good” to “Very Good” in places surely cannot warrant a score of less than 50%?

    The review pretty much echos my own sentiments regarding the album but I’d assumed the 2.3 was supposed to be a 3.3.

  8. earl grey Says:

    Good to very good *in places* doesnt necessarily counterweight the rest of the album.

  9. Actually poorly worded on my part.. It is a described as “a good album nevertheless” and does enough that “you’ll think it’s a very good album” at times.

    The review is accurate and well written, the score just doesn’t seem to reflect the opinions expressed in the review. For example:

    Megadeth – Supercollider 2/5

    “The last few Megadeth albums have all had one or two decent tracks. This one doesn’t have any.”

    If that’s a 2/5 opinion then I can’t see how this review supports a 2.3/5.

    But enough of this, I am being a pedant.

  10. strong reaction Says:

    I like what I’ve heard, but I tend not to put much stock in reviews. It’s only somebody’s opinion after all, and some reviews I read online are so ill-informed at times they become redundant.

  11. Dream House and the Pecan Tree are two of the most stunning songs ive ever heard. People reckon throwing together so many genres of music is easy but the way Deafheaven do it is exceptional and powerful. Seen them in Glasgow last month and they were amazing, and having met George and Kerry, they are lovely intelligent guys.

  12. greaterfool Says:

    Good album this, been living with it for a week now.

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