Blackgaze stalwarts revisit their recent past.
Over the ten years they’ve been together as a band and with numerous line-up changes under their belts, San Francisco quintet Deafheaven have gone from subsisting on low-wage jobs in one of North America’s most expensive cities to cracking the Top 100 album charts in both the UK and the US, headlining 3,000-capacity theatres, and being nominated for Grammys. Although they are not the originators of the black metal/shoegaze crossover genre (that honour is generally credited to France’s Alcest), they are certainly its most popular practitioners. The band wanted to mark the tenth anniversary of their 2010 demo tape’s release by playing one of the songs on it along with other favourite songs of theirs culled from various points in their back catalogue on an extensive tour. COVID-19 obviously having put paid to that idea, Deafheaven decided to put together brand new recordings of the songs they would have played on the tour and release them as a sessions album recorded by their frequent producer Jack Shirley.
‘10 Years Gone’ really demonstrates how much Deafheaven have matured and evolved as musicians over the past decade. Songs like ‘Language Games’ and ‘Vertigo’ have had the rougher edges sewn off from their original iterations and feature the more nuanced, melodic playing style that guitarists Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra have adopted in recent years. Despite this, the production values on this sessions record are noticeably more muscular and confident than those on the songs’ original recordings. It’s great to hear ‘Daedalus’, in particular, given its full due sonically by Shirley as this song comes from the original demo assembled by founding members McCoy and frontman George Clarke a decade ago. Even more recent songs like opener ‘From the Kettle Onto the Coil’, ‘Glint’, and ‘Baby Blue’ have certain melodies accentuated and sections refined, reflecting the ways in which these songs have been honed and perfected throughout years of being played live to ever-growing audiences across the world.
The record is rounded off very satisfyingly by performances of ‘The Pecan Tree’ and ‘Dream House’, respectively the closing and opening tracks from Deafheaven’s breakthrough second album, ‘Sunbather’ (2013). This version of ‘The Pecan Tree’ has lost some of the full-on, multi-tracked guitar attack the original recording of it had, but what the song loses in brutality it recuperates in more fully self-assured musicianship. And the full conclusion it is given here is far more fitting than the anti-climactic fade-out on which the original version ended. ‘Dream House’ is one of Deafheaven’s best-known songs and frequently closes the band’s gigs, so it feels apt that a recording marking the band’s first ten years together should conclude with it. Shirley does a great job of capturing how the song’s guitar lines, both rhythm and lead, sound in a live setting and the way in which the anthemic quality the song has assumed over the years is captured makes it now sound like a very counter-intuitive choice for an album’s opening track.
Overall, ‘10 Years Gone’ is a very interesting and enjoyable record that sees a band revisiting some of their own personal favourite songs and re-recording them in light of the various modifications and refinements that have been made to them throughout years of being played live. Whilst it’s still no substitute for actually getting to see the band live, it should satiate fans’ desires for a new set of gigs. That being said, it did make this writer slightly misty-eyed for a time when live music wasn’t so problematic and keenly anticipate when he can next see a Deafheaven live set. And for non-fans, it would make an ideal, accessible introduction to highlights from the band’s back catalogue. ‘10 Years Gone’ is released via Sargent House on December 4th. Pre-order it here.