Deafheaven – Sunbather

This is probably my first review in quite sometime. Check out Deafheaven‘s new record Sunbather, released via Deathwish Inc.


01 – Dream House
02 – Irresistible
03 – Sunbather
04 – Please Remember
05 – Vertigo
06 – Windows
07 – The Pecan Tree

Black metal is no longer a showcase of uber conservatism. With the advent of the millennium, several bands within the genre have broken down the walls of self-imposed reservation and settled on new terrain. Imbibing and constructing ingenuity in the process. This has resulted in the conception of several brilliant sub-genres. Be it the hyper theological approach of Deathspell Omega, the intellectualism of Blut Aus Nord, the subliminal melody of Agalloch ,the industrial assault of an Anaal Nathrakh record or the proclivity to experimentalism of Krallice. It is finally coming of age. But just like any conservative lot, some people are always up in arms when an inevitable change is ushered in. In that case what difference is it then? Black metal was borne of the recognition to undivided hate towards religion and many similar conformist constructs. If that is the case, then the purists who argue for the supposed dilution of the black metal ethos are none the wiser than the very source of their inspiration. Giving in to a certain set of standards rather than letting music have its way.  Sometimes we metalheads get lost in our own little worlds, far too often, despite the fact that our music is for the most part heavily inspired by the harsh reality of life. A pretentious callousness.

At the center of all said criticism and hipster hate are two comparatively newer bands from the USBM scene (supposedly looked down upon as well). Deafheaven and Liturgy. The  latter boasts of everything “transcendental” and make a complete mockery of themselves. Whatever quality inherent to their music is drowned out by their over the top flamboyance. Deafheaven on the other hand are quite bearers of their output. Enmeshing black metal with screamo and post rock-ish tendencies, they came out with first proper full length “Roads to Judah” after the already good demo.  In effect, they used black metal as a mere template to forward their approach. Come 2013 and they have just about released their third full length titled Sunbather.

Pink artwork and an album title that might as well befit an indie rock album serves best as a statement or much like a retort to all their detractors and purist stereotypes. But the album is much more than a mere statement, it is an amalgam of blissful melody juxtaposed against the limiting framework of the genre they primarily indulge in. While its predecessor had a much more somber vibe, Sunbather delves on the duality of perfection. Conceptually the album deals with man’s obsession with perfection. That bit of mild OCD that is in all of us. A philosophical tour on how perfection is a myth and is something we introspect and wean out later. This bit of philosophy drives the band to explore two major emotions, hope and despair. In turn, this calls for melody that is neither overtly upbeat nor completely harrowing. A sort of ambivalence that needs to be addressed with a certain subtlety. And that is precisely where the band truly shines. The riffs although not entirely reliant on its uniqueness and memorability, instead inculcate deep melodic segments that conjure an atmosphere that does not take any overarching central theme (neither hope nor despair). The memorability here, lies in the artfully contrived atmosphere that surrounds it.  The screamo tinged vocals on the other hand do not serve to take the cake, but serve to further heighten this state of self evaluation brought on by these emotions. There is no prima donna here it is all just interplay, and some of the finest of late.

Yet again, as much as I may shower the album with praise, the level of mentioned intensity is not always maintained throughout. Sunbather is broken down by intros which quite obviously overstay their welcome. Understandably so, they give us breathing space and bridge the lyrical concept, yet again one cannot discount the fact that it gives replayability a shot in the arm. After the first two listens you are likely to skip both Please Remember and Windows. Maybe a person’s patience does play a trick or two here, but everybody enters a post -black metal/whatever record with tons of patience. And that gets stretched beyond reason. To further compound this issue the track Vertigo, seems to prolong the induced disinterest initiated by Please Remember. Although Vertigo develops with time, the initial segment can frankly come off as very flat indeed.

That said, there is nothing short of calculated brilliance on the other three actual tracks with the title track being the best of the lot. On the other hand the latter half of The Pecan Tree has probably the best Deafheaven music made till date. Sunbather as a record, conclusively proves the band’s ability to write quality metal, giving a nod and at the same time ignoring, genre constraints. A few unintended blemishes do not compromise the heartfelt intent here. Another step before they fully realize themselves.  Sunbather thus breaks down barriers of everything conventional set down by the unconventional. Metal as always, still shines through and that is all that really counts.

One thought on “Deafheaven – Sunbather

  1. Amazingly well-written. I could not agree with your sentiments any more. I really like how the band is pushing away from the archetype of what purists think “black metal should be” and going more for, as Ghandi once said, “be the change you wish to see”. By creating a new and bright identity within the, usual, dark world of black metal. Deafheaven really have turned a new corner with this release for me. I found their previous releases to be rather ho-hum, as their passages were broken up into a “post-rock/black metal/post-rock/black metal” format. Then Sunbather came out and completely melded the two so well.

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