The Rickety Old Shack

Deafheaven — New Bermuda

Deafheaven - New Bermuda, cover

The follow-up to Deafheaven's break-out 2013 album, Sunbather, turned out to be one of the more hotly anticipated metal releases in recent memory. The band has been building a lot of momentum over the last couple years, fueled by an exceptional live performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival and last year's 6.5 minute single, "From the Kettle Onto the Coil." The previews for New Bermuda garnered a lot of attention and inspired hope for the rest of the album. Having only discovered Sunbather in January of this year, it felt like I'd come across this group at a really good time. The slow release of preview material only served to stoke the flames of my anticipation.

Now that I've had a chance to thoroughly dive into the entire record, I can safely say that expectations of a worthy follow-up to Sunbather were not only met but exceeded. The group is often described as a "blackgaze" outfit, but the variety of styles fused into the band's core sound has expanded well beyond such a simple description. The blackened core of the sound is still present, with the shrieking, wretched vocals, and sufficiently "grim" riffs propelled by a furious assault of double-kick drums. The guitar tones are incredible, and give the most noticeable black metal flair to all of the riffs. Flourishes of thrash, stoner and death metal appear throughout the album, as Deafheaven continues to show off their ability to transition from immensely dissonant heaviness into soft, calming post-rock-like passages without feeling forced or abrupt.

From the opening of "Brought to Water," New Bermuda doesn't give the listener much time to breathe. The bulk of this record is intense, furious music; the album is not absent melody, or calmer passages, but the emphasis is still on the extreme end of the musical spectrum. The depth and breadth of the music works in a peculiar way with the singularly focused vocal style of George Clarke. I'd love to hear a bit more varied vocals, but it's really hard to argue with something that works this well. Clarke's pained, disturbing shrieks are reminiscent of Khanate — bleak, and tortured, as though howled while being slow-roasted over an open pit — and lend a lot of emotional weight to each track. The wretched vocals are ideally suited to the more caustic parts of the record, but also create an intriguing contrast with the softer portions.

Musically and production-wise, I can't say enough good things about New Bermuda; a big reason this record is so engaging is the bleak, desolate atmosphere each song conveys. There are moments of intense fury, catchy grooves and sweeping melodic passages that all blend together into songs ranging from 8 to 10 minutes in length. The songs themselves don't feel nearly as long as they actually are; the entire record is engaging with each track all but demanding repeat listening. New Bermuda is a shining example of the ceaseless progression of modern, extreme metal; Deafheaven create songs that manage to be incredibly caustic and yet not off-putting, speaking to my love of Satyricon and Godspeed You Black Emperor in equal measure.

"Blackgaze" is acceptable, as far as shorthand descriptions go; genre labels are hardly all-encompassing and Deafheaven really drive this point home. First and foremost, this is a very heavy record; blackened nihilism suffuses every aspect of New Bermuda. Parts of this album make me want to bang my head (see: the intro to "Baby Blue"), others inspire visions of mosh pits at shows going berserk, and others give me pause as a wall of sound segues into a brooding, mellow jam. The whole band turned in first-rate performances, but I have to make special mention of the rhythm section — and Daniel Tracy's drumming in particular — for tying an incredibly diverse array of sounds together perfectly.

Summary

Although there are still 3 months left in the year, this record is a very strong contender for the best metal release. The mixture of black metal, melodic rock jamming and atmospheric elements is so perfectly executed, I couldn't have envisioned a better album from this group. Sunbather caught me completely off guard and made me take notice of Deafheaven, and New Bermuda proves the band hasn't rested on their laurels — as they continue to refine their craft in every respect. Put simply, this is a great record for any extreme metal fan with an open mind for elements of shoegaze and post-rock.

Album Information

Release date: October 2nd, 2015
Record label: Anti Records

George Clarke — vocals
Kerry McCoy — guitar
Daniel Tracy — drums
Stephen Clark — bass
Shiv Mehra — guitar

Track Listing

  1. Brought to the Water
  2. Luna
  3. Baby Blue
  4. Come Back
  5. Gifts for the Earth

—by Derek

Published: October 10, 2015