Never in my life did I ever think I’d like a so-called “black metal” band. Up until a few years ago I didn’t know what black metal really was. The black metal genre was something I looked at from a distance and thought better to indulge in it. I got the Gothic stuff. The sludge-y, doomy, stoner-y stuff. Black metal felt like an over melodramatic teenager having a meltdown in the middle of Hot Topic, at least to my ears. Then back in 2013 I kept hearing noise about this band called Deafheaven and their album Sunbather. After a few song snippets hit my ears I was pretty taken aback at the music. It felt like listening to Explosions In The Sky being enveloped by a fiery nuclear radiation blast. Screams of pain and anguish engulfed in this overwhelming beauty of flame, unrequited love, and long gestating pained memories. It was intense and beautiful. This was not a temper tantrum. This was primal scream therapy in a sensory deprivation tank lit on fire.
Needless to say, Sunbather became one of my favorite albums of 2013 and Deafheaven became one of my favorite musical obsessions. Watching them live was something to behold. George Clarke stalked the stage like a half Mike Patton and half cult leader, dressed very utilitarian in black gloves. Kerry McCoy played with the veracity of a thrash kid who cried the first time he ever heard Cocteau Twins’ Treasure and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. These two guys created Deafheaven out of desperation and hard luck childhoods. They surrounded themselves with solid players that became just as big a part of the band as themselves. The band went into the studio with Sunbather producer Jack Shirley and recorded New Bermuda live. Five songs at just over 46 minutes, New Bermuda is a revelation. It redefines what metal music can be. It’s jarring, heavy, ethereal, vast, dense, and at times absolutely beautiful. It’s probably the best album of the year, too.
Describing these five songs is a futile task. Each song ebbs and flows from raging seas to calm retrospect. “Baby Blue” is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of music Deafheaven have created. It opens up like the sea breeze gently moving over you. Something you’d hear during This Will Destroy You’s quieter moments. Then around the 4 minute mark the song tears open and lava flows from the song’s core to the surface. There’s a wah-wah guitar solo Kirk Hammett would be proud to call his own. Album opener “Brought To The Water” was the first thing we heard from New Bermuda a couple months back, and what a teaser. Church bells, noise, and anticipation come forward into a storm of speed metal dread. Slayer is summoned in those opening metal moments before George Clarke spits incantations like “Where has my passion gone?/Has it been carried off by some/Lonely driver in a line of fluorescent light?” This song is the proto-Deafheaven tune. An ambassador of angst, rage, jagged power, and ultimately redemption in the second half of the song. “Luna” opens like Anthrax on an emotional meltdown. This song rips into you and never lets go for ten intense minutes. The beauty of Deafheaven is their willingness to put out the fires and let the songs smolder in a smoke-filled beauty. “Luna” is a perfect example of that. They put you through a PTSD-inducing musical panic attack just long enough before things become dreamy. There is calm after the storm. Music is served in courses here. The sour and sweet, the bitter and the richness. “Luna” is probably the most intense you’ve heard from these guys, and it’s also the most rewarding. That’s saying a lot, I know. But trust me on this one. “Come Back” and “Gifts for the Earth” don’t let up. “Come Back” comes out full throttle before segueing into this beautiful slide guitar and almost laid back vibe. “Gifts for the Earth” starts out very much in a post-rock vibe, with Clarke’s screams tempered a bit. This is a different feel for Deafheaven, a driving rhythm pushes the song forward like The Church on a mission.
So is this black metal? If so I think I like black metal. Honestly though, New Bermuda is a more than just a genre. A label. New Bermuda is Deafheaven busting down the walls and letting everyone inside to feel what they feel. This record cultivates a kind of oneness with all. We’ve all gone through some things in life. Pain is a common denominator in our universes. Deafheaven take that pain and churn it into something revelatory and therapeutic. We’ve been brought to the water. Let us drink.