Friday, October 2, 2015

Deafheaven - New Bermuda

Written by Justin C.

Cover art by Allison Schulnik

When I set out to write about Deafheaven, I didn't have any intention of commenting on the amount of ire that New Bermuda (and Myrkur's new album) has riled up in the metal community. The reaction is filled with a level of hate, conspiracy theory, and genre nitpicking that I find comical. You can dislike whatever music you want without giving yourself a rage aneurysm, right? But then I noticed something interesting: One Million Moms is an organization (that actually only has about 40,000 members--they like to round up) of conservative goofballs devoted to trying to boycott things in the interest of protecting the precious children from dirtiness. Their latest target? The reboot of The Muppets TV show. That's right--Kermit the Frog, known for such brutal jams as "It Isn't Easy Being Green" and "The Rainbow Connection," is part of a cesspit of cultural depravity now (and apparently Miss Piggy is too feminist or something).

Why bring this up? It turns out that with a few word replacements, the moms’ rhetoric is pretty much the same as that used by the most vehement critics of Myrkur and Deafheaven. The Muppets is "not what Jim Henson imagined and created!" the moms yell, much like tr00 kvlt black metal fans when they say, "Deafheaven is not what Quorthon/Euronymous/Fenriz imagined and created!" So congratulations, thin-skinned metal fans: You share a fear of change and irrational hatred with moms that think Fozzie the Bear is an abomination that will corrupt their children. Waka waka!

Photo by Pedro Roque.

O.K., fine, I'll shut up about The Muppets and talk about music. I loved Sunbather, but I didn't give much thought to what Deafheaven's follow up might sound like. Heavier? Lighter? It turns out it's a mix of both. George Clarke's vocal stylings sound both more varied and more vicious this time around, but in contrast, the "lighter" parts of the music are even gentler than what was on Sunbather. This is probably most evident on closing track "Gifts for the Earth." Oh, stop worrying, it's not an "environmentalist song"--the "gifts" are decaying corpses. But the lovely guitar work under Clarke's hissing and snarling is downright sunny. "Come Back" starts with gentle strumming, quickly shifts into a more orthodox-sounding blast, and then morphs again into positively tropical sounds from what almost sounds like a pedal steel guitar. Purists will find this to be an affront to all that's unholy, but I dig the hell out of it. All forms of art need to progress or die, and although all experiments might not succeed, Deafheaven's sure works for me.

Photo by Pedro Roque.

Alcest has become a common shorthand for "black metal with pretty parts," but on this album in particular, I hear a lot more influence from 80s and 90s indie rock. Sure, there's an Alcest-y bit of pretty tremolo in the opening tune, but I also hear bits of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure. I think Smashing Pumpkins might even be a better comparison than Alcest in some ways because of their own mix of pretty music contrasted with sorrowful/angry lyrics, even if the vocal styles are completely disparate.

So does New Bermuda top Sunbather? That's hard to say. I was "in a mood" the other day and ended up listening to "Dream House" five or six times in a row, and although there's no track here that has that immediate, anthemic quality that some of Sunbather has, I have to agree with a comment I read (I wish I could remember where, for proper citation) that said the individual tracks of New Bermuda might not hit that lofty "Dream House" level, but as an entire album, New Bermuda is stronger. I've definitely found it to be a grower over the week I've listened to it, so I wouldn't be surprised if, a year from now, it's gotten to equal footing with Sunbather in my rotation.

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Tagged with 2015, Deafheaven, Justin C, Pedro Roque, post-black metal
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