7 October 2015
Deafheaven - New Bermuda
Boundaries are sometimes meant to be broken, rule books are meant to be burnt and perceptions of what a band can do is a changeable idea from day to day. I am not sure if this is the motto that Deafheaven live under, but it is something that they have been doing since their inception. Brief history lesson - Deafheaven formed in 2010 as a duo, they have since added members and have slowly been enchanting audiences and pissing a lot of people off by doing music that pleases themselves first, everyone else second - quite often challenging the boundaries of black metal, post-metal and shoegazing. They have been dubbed Blackgaze at the moment and that is just for media ease more than anything, but even that does not truly define what this band sounds like. Back in 2013, they released their second album 'Sunbather' (our review cleverly linked here) which I obviously reviewed well after the event (sometimes my finger is so far away from the pulse). 'Sunbather' is a towering record, it is truly a genius release and one of my top albums of all time. 'New Bermuda' was released on 2 October 2015, so you may be wondering why I did not jump on reviewing this as soon as it was released. Well to be honest I have been trying to get a little backlog out of the way, I do actually have a natural order to what I do (it might not seem it) and I was a little scared. As a fan, I want to obviously have the exhilaration of 'Sunbather' to be repeated and that is such an unfair mantel to place on a new album - how could any record match such expectations. I also do not want it to be shit, if 'Sunbather' was a flash in the pan then I would rather that was the only record I heard. So basically Deafheaven are in between a rock and a hard place in my mind today - damned if they do, damned if they don't. But Deafheaven are rule breakers and will not give a fuck what someone from Newcastle upon Tyne feels, they have released an album which they will be proud of and hope the world comes along or they can fuck off. Time to see where the cards have landed.
Starting the album is "Brought to the Water" which was the first song to be released from the album, it is about moving into the feeling of being uprooted from one's past and entering the monotonous, complicated arena known as adulthood. The notion that we have to leave the past being is not a notion that people find easy to deal with. The song begins with low feedback with the sound of bells tolling in the background, before the band erupt into the song and the manic paced drums anchor the droning guitars. But then it have a brilliant little fill that reminds me of many an old school trash metal riff, just a pausing repeat of the guitar that gets the listener ready for the next assault and it is straight back into the black metal section of their sound. It keeps on this punishing beginning till around the three minute mark where a clear guitar rips through the song with a slow solo to enthral the listener, it is all very dramatic as you would expect from these guys.....and then they slow things down even further and slip their shoegazing persona on with the minimal of ease. It is all of a sudden a relaxed and gentle creature - but do not be fooled as the beast is never far from the surface and this song is brought to an end with a series of riffs that are a combination of black metal, shoegazing and alternative metal circa 1997. It fades to piano outro and guides the audience into the next song which is called "Luna". There is a lot more going on here as well and it is a complex, juggernaut of a song. Some people have seen this as the successor to "Dream House" from 'Sunbather', with the lyrics about being tricked and duped into being in a place where there is no escape; the feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia reek from the lyrics like spray from a waterfall - you are very aware of its presence. Starting with another riff that combines a bit of classic metal to the black metal and shoegazing drone, the band aim for the jugular first and then take the head clean off with the sound of a storm erupting around the house. As the song goes on, the drone/shoegazing nature kicks in and you are in constant shift between every style of music that the band do, always done with such ease and confidence that it is hard not to be impressed by Deafheaven. The slow, descending ending is the best part of the song as it sounds as if the house is finally falling into the sea as everything comes crashing down.
"Baby Blue" starts off with a clear, hypnotic sound that marks it out from the first two songs of the album; it does not use the natural and aggressive sound of the band to grab your attention, it grabs it through the power of the sound that is made. Indeed, it is not till after the first three minutes that a guitar is struck in anger and even then it is do it is still at a slower pace to the previous two songs. It is littered with the usual shoegazing riffs, that black metal genius that is the forte and the odd trash metal-esque riff to just to keep you guessing as to where they are going next. The lyrics are open to interpretation, in some places they are bizarre (lines such as "I do not want to be a queer fish in unforgiving hearts" is one that is open to query and judgement); some of the lines are more obvious dealing with feelings of not being worthy or feeling trapped and lost. It is a beautiful song, the lyrics are strange but still another good track. The penultimate track is called "Come Back" and for about forty seconds, you are then launched into one of the most intense black metal sections of the album. For that four minute period, it is full on assault, attack after attack, wave after wave of noise, drums like the earth is breaking and a voice like thunder. This is the first set of lyrics which I do not have a fucking clue what is going on - not one iota. It could be about drug dependence, it could be about losing yourself to the world, it is the most open set of lyrics on the album. However, the joy of this song is the ending which lasts for five minutes and the shoegazing beauty is on show for everyone to see. It is majestic and something to truly be lost in. But this is nothing compared to the ending song - "Gifts for the Earth". This song is the gem in the crown, the top of the bill and other pretentious metaphorical bollocks that I can make up to say how much that I adore this song. The black metal is thrown to the side and went for the lighter shades of the repertoire, it fades in nicely from "Come Back" and it deals with the only think that everyone in the world is guaranteed to experience - the final curtain, the step beyond, death, etc, etc, etc. Musically it is actually stronger than the more aggressive and powerful numbers of the album, the lighter tones give a stronger contrast to the frantic drumming and harsh vocal delivery (please deity, never let that change) that bind the song together. Also, please do not be under the impression that I think this song is not powerful - it is as strong as the rest of the record (if not more so). It just uses a different and far more effective dynamic which ends this album brilliantly.
This is a worthy follow up to 'Sunbather' as it does not rest on the laurels of the past, it is progressive in nature and is reaching for a new horizon. There is no knowing where this band is going and this is just a snap shot of the band in constant flight towards a pastures unknown. Is it as good as 'Sunbather'? Well, it is not as instant and it took a little longer to get into if I am honest. The first time I listened to it, I was not sure what they had done and was worried that my fear about them being a flash in the pan might come true. However, after repeat listens to the album it has really grown on me and it might take a while for it to settle in my mind. But it has improved with each listen and there is so much depth to the music, so I have a feeling that the mark below might be one I regret and wish I had made higher in a few months’ time. Needless to say, Deafheaven continue to be one of the most interesting and progressive acts currently releasing music, let the rules be broken and then broken again.
9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost.....
Top track - Gifts for the Earth
You can purchase New Bermuda on Amazon here
You can visit the Deafheaven website here (which also has links to webstores where you can purchase the album)
You can follow their activities on Facebook here
You can visit the Deafheaven Bandcamp page and purchase New Bermuda (as well as their other albums)
You can stream New Bermuda on Spotify here
You can stream New Bermuda on Deezer here
You can stream New Bermuda on Tidal here
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