Deafheaven – “Sunbather”



It’s funny how things work.  Take black metal for instance.  Emerging from the bleak, permanent-winter vibe of the Scandanavian metal scene in the early 1990s, it was simultaneously praised for it’s new, lo-fi, nearly shoegazer take on death metal and derided for it’s cheesy, immature Satanic imagery and for it’s nationalistic ideals that approached National Socialism (indeed, there is a distant branch of the genre literally named “national socialist black metal”).  Then, six or seven years ago the Americans took the genre by force, and acts like Wolves In The Throne Room and Liturgy breathed new life into the instrumental hallmarks while generally abandoning the lame imagery.  At the same time, the post-rock movement has, in recent years, developed a harder-edge strain through acts like *shels and Russian Circles, using heavy guitar passages and bludgeoning arrangements to inject metal into the sprawling suite-structure made popular by Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed! You Black Emperor.

Sunbather, then, represents a junction between the two disparate movements:  they use the brutal, blastbeat-ridden instrumentation and howling-demon vocals of black metal and use it in the sprawling, dynamically-exciting structures of post-rock.  The album hovers between the two worlds with sure-handed expertise; there are moments, such as on the stellar closer “The Pecan Tree”, where the band shifts from a blur of heaviness into droplets of pure, calm beauty without even batting an eye.  Hunter Hunt-Hendrix may have developed the ideal of “transcendental black metal” but Deafheaven has crafted something that is actually Zen; it shows the chaotic futility of modern existence and then proceeds to show us that even in those seemingly bleak days there is sunshine, colour, love.  It is a meditation on life circa 2013, a perfect representation of the unpronounceable feelings that rule us beneath the surface of consciousness.  It may not be, strictly speaking, the best album of 2013 (I mean, we still have Kanye and Arcade Fire to get to), but it is, to this music nerd, probably going to stand up in December as the most important.