Release Date: 13th July 2018
Genre: Black Metal/Shoegaze/Post-rock
It takes a great deal of courage to eschew the traditions of a genre, particularly one with such militant fans as black metal. Yet Deafheaven are persistent in avoiding the clichés and tropes of the genre, and as a result have become the most innovative and, dare I say it, best black metal band performing today.
After the pandemonium caused by 2013’s Sunbather, Deafheaven were exalted from the cold, dark cave of underground black metal and awarded slots on the most unexpected festival stages such as Coachella, often as the only metal band on the bill. This treatment you’d expect for the likes of Linkin Park or Bring Me The Horizon, who have moulded their brand of metal into a more radio-friendly package, but Deafheaven – despite their innovations – still feature some of the defining traits of black metal that would deem the genre inaccessible. Coupled with their post-rock/shoegaze/generally hipster influence, it would seem that their success outside of the metal scene doesn’t make any sense, but there is one small detail that should be noted: Deafheaven are truly superb.
On their latest release, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, the U.S. band continue to defy expectations of what is acceptable in metal. The album starts with a piano arpeggio that could result in the band receiving an angry phone call from Adele’s lawyer, before the rest of the band join, accompanied by a spoken word performance from actress Nadia Kury. For the first few minutes, nothing suggests the album is a metal record, sounding closer to the likes of Slowdive or Mogwai. When the shift to “rock” kicks in, the lead guitar melody sounds like something penned by Brian May or Slash, a sound that in the last few years might have been considered outdated, so it’s no surprise that Deafheaven took this left field turn to throw the listener off. That said, it is by no means jarring, and provides an organic segue from the piano ballad sound of ‘You Without End’ to the marching black metal of the 11 minute lead single ‘Honeycomb’. It’s one thing to be able to compose in two disparate styles, but merging the two together seamlessly is another challenge in itself; something the band tackle with ease. Much like a frog in a pot of water with the temperature increasing, non-metal fans will fail to notice that the pleasant Cocteau Twins album they put on has transformed into a Darkthrone record. Is this how you win over those who shun the metal genre as a whole? It might just be the best attempt yet.
The remainder of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love continues in a similar fashion: sprawling, cinematic pieces creating a dreamlike state for the listener. Even the most extreme metal moments still have an underlying optimism and hopefulness that is rarely found (if ever) in traditional black metal. The harmony takes influence from more conventional sources such as pop and accessible rock, something that normally might be considered lacking in ambition, but adds a new dimension to the harmonic “rules” of traditional black metal. It even leaves the listener pondering the exact definitions of genres. Is Ordinary Corrupt Human Love a black metal album? Are Deafheaven a black metal band? Purists may say no out of defiance, but what of the blast beats, the tremolo picked distorted guitars, the shrieked harsh vocals?
With four out of seven of the tracks lasting more than 10 minutes each, Deafheaven aren’t following in Bring Me The Horizon’s footsteps by becoming radio friendly – but who says that is what the band want? The running time of each track doesn’t feel unnecessary or dragged out, and the outside influence yielding interest from non-metal fans doesn’t come across as a cynical marketing ploy, but as an organic cocktail of the band’s favourite genres. There was more than one occasion where the influence of Queen came across in the songwriting, and even some pop punk style guitar melodies, suggesting that Deafheaven are striving to become the quintessential eclectic band.
Deafheaven have earned their rise to the metal elite, and while they may not take over as festival headliners when Iron Maiden and Metallica inevitably retire, they can sit proudly in the history books alongside the likes of Converge and Neurosis as artistic visionaries and true metal innovators.
Recommended Track: Near