Every once and a while, an album will come along seemingly out of nowhere and shake the foundations of your world to shreds. Sunbather, the 2013 album from black metal shoegazers Deafheaven, was that kind of record – an album of emotionally turbulent set of gorgeously-crafted songs unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. It’s one of my favorite records EVER, and yet, it’s one that I can’t really listen to very often. It’s so emotionally draining that I find I have to be in the right mindset to press play on the opener “Dream House”, because once you’re in, there’s no turning back, and it takes a few moments to recover as “The Pecan Tree” fades and the album ends.
One of the biggest triumphs of Sunbather was how Deafheaven seamlessly brought together very different worlds of black metal, shoegaze, and even pop, thus having critics dub them as “the metal band for those who don’t like metal.” Metal, as you may know, is a very peculiar genre that hasn’t quite branched out since Metallica’s The Black Album days. Nu-metal was a step WAY back, and any band influenced by Disturbed doesn’t deserve to be listened to or written about. Finally, here comes a band willing to push Metal in a forward direction, and they get chastised for it. Why? Because “metal heads” felt Deafheaven was not genuine “metal.” Listen, I am by no means a “metal head,” and I am certainly not a black metal fan. However, while Deafheaven may be considered “black metal” by definition, they defy genre in reality. Deafheaven is proof that it’s okay to like this music, and then enjoy, say, CHVRCHES immediately after. Genre doesn’t matter here. That’s what makes this band so special, and this is why you need to give their newest album New Bermuda a listen.
New Bermuda is most certainly not Sunbather. While Sunbather was beautiful on the inside and out, New Bermuda is an ugly and twisted beast. Vocalist George Clarke voice screeches in a goblin-like tone throughout, while guitarist Kerry McCoy leads an aggressive attack, shredding more and “shoe-gazing” less. Not to mention the stellar full-time band members – bassist Stephen Clark, guitarist Shiv Mehra, and drummer Daniel Tracy – whose contributions to this album add to its monstrosity. Tracy, in particular, might be one of the best drummers out there right now.
Yet, despite its grotesque exterior, this album has an inner beauty that is more pronounced here because of the initial ugliness. There’s always going to be a dark and a light side to Deafheaven, but the lines between the two are more obscured on New Bermuda. “Brought to the Water” starts out with discordant riffs and bursts, picking up where Sunbather left off, but it blooms into something else entirely by the end. “Baby Blue,” the three-part mid-album epic, tussles and turns between a dreamy melody and a chugging, sludgy slow burn. While Deafheaven are certainly coming into their own on this New Bermuda, the one song on this album, for me, that is the embodiment of what makes Deafheaven so ahead of their time is “Gifts for the Earth,” a hard-nosed rocker that as it breaks down, it pummels anything on Sunbather into submission. But then, out of nowhere, Deafheaven ride into the sunset into a “champagne supernova” in the sky. While being one of the most straight-forward songs Deafheaven has written, it’s mind-blowing how this band can go from And Justice For All to What’s the Story Morning Glory so perfectly and naturally. It’s a small taste of what makes New Bermuda so great. Deafheaven isn’t cashing in, they’re moving forward. None of it sounds forced; none of it feels fake. It’s just… Deafheaven.