Deafheaven – Infinite Granite Review

Deafheaven changed my life. Or, more specifically, Sunbather changed my life. That’s not hyperbole. That album is the reason you are reading this review. Pre-Sunbather, I didn’t understand metal. But Deafheaven spoke it in a language I could finally interpret. The howls and shrieks and drums and guitars, previously so impervious to my attempts at decoding, were suddenly utilized in a way that incorporated real emotion. A new world was revealed. It blew my fucking mind. And it broke my fucking heart. That knee-buckling, cascading, glorious riff at 7:55 in “The Pecan Tree”? I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it. It made me cry. It still makes me cry. And yes, I’m fully aware by now that Sunbather was not ground-breaking to those already in the scene. But to me? It completely altered my brain. I listened to it, and chewed on it, and sucked the marrow from it, every day for nearly 18 months. And the need to find the feeling that Sunbather gave me is the reason I am now a metalhead. I know Deafheaven is divisive, but they are my first metal love. You never forget your first.

Which brings us to Infinite Granite. Every Deafheaven album prior to this has been a reaction to the last. If the cold, heavy New Bermuda was an attempt to establish the band’s bona fides to a skeptical metal world after Sunbather, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love was the group embracing the warm blackgaze sound they pioneered and drifting away from the black metal scene about which they have always been so ambivalent. In that respect, Infinite Granite breaks the mold: it is a continuation of the aesthetic of OCHL, not a reaction to it. Viewed through that lens, the virtual abandonment of shrieked vocals and blast beats, and the lean towards shiny post-rock, is completely unsurprising. Deafheaven has been headed in this direction for a while now. But here lies the rub: while I have been moving towards black metal’s orbit, Deafheaven have been escaping it. Which made me profoundly worried about this new collection. While artists should never remain static, the truth was: my favorite band were no longer playing the music that made me love them.

Deafheaven deals in emotion. Part of what has always polarized metal fans is the band’s unironic embrace of vulnerability. Either you buy it, and feel it in your bones, or you think it’s insincere hipster schtick, piggybacking on the novelty of established metal tropes, while disrespecting their lore. For those of us on board, Infinite Granite is still very clearly a Deafheaven record, and carries the emotional core that makes their back catalog so remarkable. But while the core is intact, the song writing is variable, which dilutes it. These are post-rock cuts that deviate little from the template established years ago. Ethereal verse, harder rock chorus. Rinse and repeat. It’s neither particularly inspiring nor surprising. With few exceptions, nothing here grips and surprises like the Brit-pop pivots of “Gifts for the Earth” on New Bermuda, or the quirky lightness of “Canary Yellow” on OCHL. These are pleasant, but predictable songs that initially sound better than they actually are. Much of the credit for this must go to Dan Tracy’s superb stick work. His inventive rhythms (check the subtle rolls on “In Blur,” or the compelling beat of “The Gnashing”) supply a subtle but necessary force to keep the songs humming along.

Much of the power of previous Deafheaven albums came from the successful juxtaposition the band achieved between gorgeous shoegaze and furious black metal. Like post-metal giants Isis, Deafheaven realized that the quiet interludes did not simply exist to provide a break from the intensity, but could be utilized to build momentum for the next sonic assault. It is here that Infinite Granite really begins to crumble. Without the fire of black metal, a key component of what made early material so resonant has been lost. The songs hit their emotional beats, but they never soar. There’s an absence; a fire that has been extinguished. Some of the blame rests with George Clarke’s vocals. They’re fine, but they’re also bland. His screams were nothing notable, but he had the engine of gorgeous black metal to coast on. Here, he has to shoulder a lot more responsibility to sell the songs, and he simply doesn’t have the range or charisma to hoist them to the next level.

Infinite Granite ends with “Mombasa,” and it is here that the band makes the most intriguing decision of the album. Like other tracks, it starts slowly and beautifully, and then, with 3 minutes to go, out of nowhere, it ignites. Guitars smash in, George Clarke’s growl is back, guitars soar, blast beats return, and it feels like the Deafheaven of old have barged in. It’s cathartic and glorious and it’s everything good about the band. Then, just as abruptly, it, and the album, end. What does it mean? The band reminding fans that they haven’t given up black metal entirely? A farewell to their aesthetic? A hint of what’s to come? It’s the best 3 minutes of Infinite Granite, but it also highlights what’s been missing, emphasizing the deficiencies of what came before.

Infinite Granite is the painful realization that Deafheaven and I have just grown too far apart. Which breaks my fucking heart (again). I respect the band’s direction, I respect the bravery to follow that direction, but I can’t pretend I love the results. The fire that set my soul alight on Sunbather has been replaced by shiny, post-rock blandness. The emotion that brought tears to my eyes through its intensity now barely functions as background music. I was ready to write the whole thing off. Except for those final 3 minutes, man. It’s like a true love walking away, but at the last moment, turning around, giving an enigmatic glance and smiling. Too little, too late. But it’s something. Maybe enough.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Sargent House
Websites:  |
Releases Worldwide: August 20th, 2021

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