Photo by Yoshitaka Kogawa
Sunbathing in Fierce Sound
I first came across Deafheaven through a drunk guy in a bar who was either pretentiously boasting about his taste in music or earnestly pushing it onto a captive audience. Luckily, when it was his turn to hit the jukebox he played something good, and that good thing was Deafheaven. “People really hate this band,” he told me. You can appreciate the point: The band’s releases since their inception in 2010 seem to have been divisive to the point of loathing in some cases, but Deafheaven don’t really come across as a band who need your approval to keep doing what they do.
Deafheaven’s 5-song set at the White Stage took place under brutal mid-day sun in an area completely devoid of any shade. The lack of respite seemed fitting for a band who were to spend the next 50 minutes pushing the limits of sound and people’s patience. “Brought to the Water” began with the ominous chiming of church bells then smashed into an assault of discordant guitar, blast beats and vocalist George Clark’s shrieking vocals, all of which have slapped the band with a “black metal” label from lazier quarters. The song is more nuanced than pure black metal, breaking away into lofty guitar tremolo solos that soar over a more harmonious rhythm guitar beneath them into something more erudite.
The transition from heavier to lighter passages is perhaps more a way to highlight the subtleties of each change in tempo and style. “Baby Blue” begins with a harmonic swell of guitar picking underpinned by rolling transitions that are reminiscent of Mastodon or Isis in their progressive style. The effect is to lull before being devoured. As the guitars begin an anticipatory bridge and the drums kick in, we know something is coming but are too pacified to do anything but submit as the song descends into more intense territory. “Come Back” follows in much the same style: a quiet start before a wall of sound engulfs the audience. Deafheaven slip out of the “black metal” and head more towards thrash riffing and deeply layered guitars before heading into more melancholic “shoe-gaze” and summery guitar solos.
“Gifts of the Earth” follows an almost upbeat path, and with a different set of vocals could probably be passed off as indie rock. It’s remarkably different from the preceding songs, but lacks for intensity in comparison. Final song “Dream House” follows with another upbeat aural punching, the reverb from the guitars pulsing through the heat and as the last of 5 songs, it felt like not nearly enough at the end of a set that was cacophonous, beatific and moreish.