|The Skinny UK|
As I've written on the blog before, metal (largely black metal) isn't my bag. In many ways it’s my own version of reggae or country; two genres people commonly dismiss as sounding "samey." It's not a problem with black metal being typically violent music, Death Grips are one of my favorite bands, but how it’s constructed. To undiscerning metal ears, which mine unquestionably are, one ear-piercing howl or heart palpitating blastbeat is indistinguishable from another. Words are largely unrecognizable and to someone who places a premium on lyrics, that’s incredibly frustrating. So instead of pushing through to the other side of the suffocating music, I turn off because there's nothing for me to cling to.
All of that said, San Francisco black metal/post-rock/shoegaze experimenters Deafheaven's set to a small, but intimate crowd at Lawrence's Granada Theater was a revelation. I was drawn entirely to the show by their 2013 record Sunbather, which was one of my 10 favorite albums of last year and sat at number one on aggregating site Metacritic's 2013 list. It's a sublime album, sui generis in construction but eerily familiar. Meandering, Modest Mouse like guitar lines will explode into power soloing. Pianos dawdle for a spell then disappear into a fog of galloping bass and flailing percussion. George Clarke's distanced, often heartbreaking envy of those with money is delivered in a banshee wail. Sunbather doesn't so much rewrite the rules of what black metal can be, it throws the book into a shredder then sets the scraps on fire.
And fortunately for me and those fervent metal heads in attendance, the quintet's main-set drew entirely from the game-changing release. "Dream House"'s heavily arpeggiated chords had Clarke "screaming" in a near whisper as he ruminated on "sober restlessness." They were less the exhortations of a black metal singer and closer to a cat's inaudible death screeches. Sunbather's title track saw the morbidly dressed frontman flapping across the stage as the two guitar attack crushed the bones of the common man "down to yellow." For captaining such chaos, Clarke has a remarkable stage presence. His hands would curl up in a manner reminiscent of Magneto's flight routine and command the small crowd to rival his screams. There a certain cultishness to it, robotically disciplined but remarkably passionate.
The band's bloodstained passion dripped continuously throughout the 60-plus minute set. You'd have to have passion to play songs that stretch to 8 or 9 minutes at a time. And any time their love of "violence" seemed unable to carry them over another wall of noise, Sunbather's interstitial passages of flanging guitar arrived on time. They weren't there simply as a breather though. Each My Bloody Valentine inspired echo was meant as a contrast; a sign that any beauty we eek out of our "short" lives is impossible without the occasional brutality.
I brought a friend of mine to the show who is also indifferent to more violent strands of heavy metal. Zach had largely come to see Arkansas doom metal band Pallbearer, whose set was riff manna from heaven to a starving crowd. They debuted two new tracks from their highly anticipated album Foundations of Burden, which figures to be one of metal's most important releases in 2014. Immediately after their set we could only say how "rad" it was. When the entire grueling night ended, he didn't have the same things to say about Deafheaven, but there was admittance to how powerful they were live. More than any other descriptor, that might be the most apt. Deafheaven’s a powerful band and they masterfully wield that power.
1. "Dream House"
4. "Please Remember"
7. "The Pecan Tree"
(Original review posted for Demencha Magazine)