Album Review: Deafheaven - 'Sunbather'

27 May 2013 | 4:03 am | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

Stunningly beautiful; unbelievably crushing. One of the best metal albums of the year.

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San Francisco black metal/post-rock outfit Deafheaven have always polarised audiences with their recorded material. Debut album 'Roads to Judah' received high amounts of praise for its ambitious combination of different musical styles and influences, and masterful execution – while at the same time being criticised by purists for not sounding “authentic” enough. With 'Sunbather', the band's second album, Deafheaven come entirely into their own, delivering a crushing, beautiful record that explores a full spectrum of sounds and emotions.

Opener 'Dream House' kicks off haunting and solemn while remaining fast, dark and aggressive. There's something about the way the string section – sweeping, harmonious and grand – complement the tortured, visceral screams and frenetic blast beats occurring in the forefront that makes it such a compelling and intriguing introduction. This juxtaposition of light and dark sounds is something that Deafheaven have explored well in the past but it's none more obvious and focused than on this record, with the dichotomy existing both within each song and as part of the album in general. A relatively brief instrumental, nostalgic interlude entitled 'Irresistible' leads us into the album's title track, an expansive, draining work.

What's important to understand about 'Sunbather' is that it is, first and foremost, an album best enjoyed as a start-to-finish, whole album experience. Truly appreciating the way the band present such a broad range of contrast by taking it all in makes it an incredibly emotional, literally exhausting process that unveils the fact that 'Sunbather' is not a collection of songs, but a sole piece of art broken up into seven acts.

The album's standout tracks are 'Vertigo' and 'The Pecan Tree', 'Sunbather's fifth and seventh track respectively, broken up by a spoken word interlude. The album's longest songs, they represent, perhaps best, the intentions of Deafheaven on this record. The band explore ambient, vivid textural environments, as well as seamlessly demonstrating the harsh, incendiary black metal roots that Deafheaven have refined and pushed the boundaries of. The overall focus is on the wholly atmospheric nature of the record – regardless of whether it's the brighter tones on display or the malevolent and vicious side of the band. 

The ability to explore such an immensely broad range of moods as effectively as Deafheaven within the soundscapes featured on 'Sunbather' is something many bands try desperately to pull off. Many instead end up creating an ambiguous, muddled kind of thematic tone that feels convoluted and kind of off putting. With 'Sunbather', the transitions and scope that Deafheaven craft feel like a product of both meticulous calculation, as well as something that feels very organic and visceral – the results are nothing short of incredible.

1. Dream House

2. Irresistible

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3. Sunbather

4. Please Remember

5. Vertigo

6. Windows

7. The Pecan Tree