I wasn’t going to do it. The need for me to bring up this album was huge, but I felt so cliché and predictable doing it. I know even attempting to stand apart from others and mentioning this album was impossible. I don’t know if it was the fact that it’s hugely anticipated, or that it’s been labelled “hipster-metal”, but all these aspects are thrown aside when I finally gave this an honest listen. Now to any metal-heads out there who live and breath bands like Burzum, Mayhem, Dissection and the true black metal, this is old news to you.
Sunbather, by the West-Coast California metal outfit, Deafheaven, is the sophomore album to be released by this band. They attempt to improve and grow the sounds of traditional black-metal with a shoegazing vibe and a post-rock structure. I’ve seen critics call this album a ‘post-metal’ record, and that makes perfect sense, but I’m unclear if it’s actually correct to do so. What caught my eye with this record is how accessible it is. Much like the 2011 album, Aesthethica, by the self-described “transcendental black-metal” band, Litrugy, they really push the post-rock structure. From the beginning of this hour long album, it opens with the hard hitting track, “Dream House”. Now how cute is that title! Even the pink cover (designed Nick Steinhardt of Touché Amoré) gives away a little of edginess compared to traditional black metal artists. The song has everything that’s found in regular music of this genre; blast-beats, screaming and snarls, tremolo picking, and insanely heavy build ups. What separates the sound from first listen is the atmosphere and emotion found in this track. The way the musicians play is digestible, even if it’s considerably the heaviest sounds found in music.
The second track, “Irresistible”, is an interlude to the metal-core influenced track, “Sunbather”. The two tracks together are likened to the amazing 2012 album, Les Voyages De L’Âme, by the metal group Alcest (Which was in MITNG’s top 30 album list of 2012!). The songs on this album are considerably long as well. For black-metal standards, they aren’t, but this album does present itself to more of a mainstream crowd, and that’s a great thing for a genre that’s generally hidden under the rug from the music community. “Sunbather” is an incredible track. It plays like a post-rock song that never seems to ever have a beginning. Every note is a crescendo and it’s difficult to ever think the song can build anymore. The blast beats are tights, the vocals are intense, but never scooped my insides out with a spoon. Instead, it was like steel wool rubbing on a pillow. The album for the most part drones on, and it was easy to find myself lost in the build ups. I do love the classic Dissection album, The Storm Of The Light’s Bane, but Sunbather fills a different niche to my music needs.
What I’ve noticed from this album is that there isn’t a lot of filler. It has it’s moments of commentary, like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, but it fits the album’s overall style. Sunbather grabs all the accessible and generally enjoyable sections of traditional black metal, and then expands it over a 7-12 minute track. That’s not to say it’s 100% amazing because the track, “Please Remember” has an experimental middle section that sounds like the band forgot to stop recording, but it jumps into a great slow section. Unsurprisingly though, it builds up again. What did you think would happen?! Deafheaven have their sound and they do an amazing job running with it.
To say the least, Deafheaven does play more like a post-rock band structurally than a black-metal band musically. Their sound is unique to an extent. It’s nothing metal fans have heard before, but to a lot of listeners who aren’t interested in the genre, it’s probably the freshest and hippest sound today. It’s more accessible than any Liturgy music, but it’s also extremely credible. The songs, like “Vertigo”, don’t require any virtuoso to play these tracks, but that’s what makes this band so interesting. They have a genre that gets such a bad rep for the culture behind it, and they twist it to a point where it’s more about the music. Even the album’s Wikipedia page has ‘black-metal’ as the third genre this album is. Maybe it was written by an arrogant music snob, but to clear the airs of this, the album is black-metal.
The final three songs are the true crescendos of this album, and I love it. “Vertigo”, “Windows”, and “The Pecan Tree” define the album. Much like Liturgy’s “Glory Bronze”, the entire listening and anticipation fall on these tracks, and the band steps it up. The energy and flow of the songs are great. Super creative playing, while also quite simple. Amazing atmosphere and emotional through the rise and fall of the songs. Deafheaven bring to the table their tools and put them to great use.
True black-metal fans are shaking their heads right now. They cannot believe what they’re reading. How can this “hipster” piece-of-shit be good? The fact of the matter is that it is. I’ve been reading forums on how this is a disgrace to ‘trve kvlt’ metal, but who the fuck cares if it’s this or that. What makes an album good is by how it sounds. The labels surrounding it shouldn’t have any impact. I was a skeptic as well before putting Sunbather on, but after multiple listens and taking it for strictly the music, I was shocked about how great it was. Although not the most intense, heaviest, or brutal album out there by a long shot, this can easily be a guilty pleasure for metal fans, and even a great stepping stone into an extremely dense genre of music. I had a great time listening to this album, and it’ll be on my iPod for a long time to come.
Listen to the full album here off Youtube here: