Written By: Jordan Campbell
If Deafheaven makes you mad, you’re doing it wrong. The essence of the band’s appeal isn’t found in their physical manifestation, nor the influences they’ve mined and reshaped for themselves. Even the passages of their music that seem to trigger minute-by-minute breakdowns from the commentariat don’t tell the whole story.
The reason why their previous album, Sunbather, was such a breakthrough after the squarely-Cascadian Roads to Judah? It connected with people. Swollen with tremelo-swept adrenalin peaks—yet floor-painted with devastating introspection—Sunbather wasn’t so much a stylistic display as it was a dialogue.
When they took those songs on the road, that dialogue became even clearer. Like loose contemporaries Alcest and Lantlôs, Deafheaven‘s early incarnation had been creating music best enjoyed in solitude. But unlike Alcest and Lantlôs, they can now expertly utilize the stage to forge an electrifying connection with their audience.
And that audience, man: sure, the token disinterested coolkids can be found milling about, distancing themselves from the handful of back-patched heshers pressed against the monitors. But Deafheaven‘s real communicative gift is their ability to inject newcomers with heavy metal’s freeing wildness. Obvious non-heads are infused with the will to mosh, thrash, and ‘bang, even if they don’t really know how and look like total dorks while doing it.
Deafheaven is on a mission to share that energy with their fans, pulling them out of the bedroom and into the collective. They’re taking that mission one step further with New Bermuda. On the surface, New Bermuda seems simple enough: Deafheaven making another Deafheaven record. They’re doing their thing and doing it well (and there’s nothing revelatory or controversial about their approach, either, unless you’re a dinosaur that’s been hung up on dusty black metal orthodoxy since Fleurety and Dodheimsgard took their left turns twenty years ago.) Opener “Brought to the Water” and “Come Back,” both released as singles, are pretty safe, and lent listeners the soft opening that advance streams are built for. But repeated listens reveal songwriting subtleties that only veterans can pull off.
Sunbather trumped the oft-leaden Roads to Judah, largely, due to then-newcomer Daniel Tracy’s power behind the kit, and on “Brought to the Water,” guitarist Kerry McCoy unveils a version of his band that’s willing to lean on Tracy’s strength and air things out. The deft dodges between dreamy guitar lines and mouthpunch riffs are tighter and quicker; no longer does the band require sustained washes of USBM tropes to maintain sonic weight.
This makes New Bermuda‘s songs more stage-ready than anything the bootgaze crowd has produced to date. The climactic final two minutes of “Luna” are an absolute ritual, towering and bombastic despite using minimalistic guitar work and near-tribal, trancelike beats. And the gentle build to the pre-solo (!) meltdown in “Baby Blue” is expertly laid, setting the stage for Tracy’s deliberate beatings with freakish skill. However, their Live Band Metamorphosis doesn’t truly show its wingspan until “Gifts for the Earth” closes the record. (Given the band’s penchant for fade-outs and digressions into navelgazing, it’s a subtle growth.) The vocals, heretofore workmanlike, are finally throned.
Yes, silencing the main concern surrounding Sunbather, vocalist George Clarke is no longer relegated to the role of static figure fighting against the mix, as the nuance and space afforded by these compositions allow him to screech, rasp, and shred atop riffery that’s both beautiful and ablaze. New Bermuda provides a pulpit in which he can bask in his (begrudgingly bestowed) role as one of the best frontmen in metal today, old guard notwithstanding. It’s refreshing as hell.
These crafty tweaks prove that New Bermuda isn’t a radical reinvention, nor is it some kind of validation stamp on the state of heavy metal at large; it’s a just pretty damn good album from a band that’s steadily honing their craft in all aspects. And the band, to be sure, isn’t the “exception to the metal rule” that lazy mainstream music writers paint them to be, either (neither were High On Fire and Mastodon when Rolling Stone condescendingly propped them up a few years back, but guess what? Everybody turned out fine.) Deafheaven is just doing a pretty damn good job at bringing their chosen style of metal to their masses.
The question of why the masses SEE that appeal remains somewhat unanswered. Deafheaven‘s impact is largely based an intangible ability to utlize an emotional palette that hinges just as much on negative space and suspense as it does the fuck-obvious metallic beatdown. That’s something that some analysis-and-technicality-obsessed diehards simply can’t quantify. And that’s okay. New Bermuda has all the hallmarks of a great heavy metal record–moments of beauty and triumph countering fits of fury and lust–and it’s been built for maximum connectivity. Deafheaven will bring these songs to the people, and with it, the unbridled ecstasy of losing one’s goddamn mind in the throes of riffing and wonderment. Didn’t your parents teach you to share?