Deafheaven releases dynamic, dreamy third album

Chris Duncan

In the world of black metal music, fans like their songs to roll past at mind-numbing speed. Yet subgenres such as blackgaze, which uses slower moments to juxtapose distorted guitars and shrieking singers, are challenging the norm. Black metal group Deafheaven is the most divisive act of the genre, although fans often dismiss it because it deviates from the genre standard. The group’s most recent LP New Bermuda, released Friday, strays even further from the norm than its prior releases.

The five-piece band from San Francisco has found recent momentum with its 2013 release Sunbather impressing non-metal listeners with its slow and melodic moments. However, many metal fans consider Deafheaven to be the bane of the genre’s formulaic but punchy existence. New Bermuda won’t convince any of the nay-sayers that Deafheaven’s style is the direction in which all metal bands should be headed, but the record progresses the group’s multifaceted sound, making it an empowering listen.    

At the core of each song is drummer Daniel Tracy’s technique. His fast-paced fillers are fun to listen to, but it’s his ability to quickly accelerate then slow down a track that transforms each of the album’s five songs into its own experience. Paired with vocalist George Clarke’s bloodcurdling screams, these two drive the album’s various moods.

Guitarists Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra are the stars of New Bermuda, with their guitar riffs sending the listener into a dreamlike state. Just as blues guitarists can transform their instruments into storytellers, McCoy and Mehra find a way to send listeners into an enchanting trance.

All of the band’s elements combine to create an extensively beautiful sound as complex as an orchestra’s. Compared to Sunbather, New Bermuda is more drastic in its style and production choices. The LP’s fast-paced barre chords and riffs deliver more energy than its predecessor, and its calmer moments, featuring echoed piano chords, are slower than ever. By capping each song off with Clarke’s incredibly desperate vocals, each song becomes its own miniature symphony.

At times, deciphering Clarke’s lyrics can be difficult, not only because they’re hard to comprehend, but they’re also intentionally vague. During the album’s final track, “Gifts for the Earth,” Clarke sings, “I imagine the gracious, benevolent ritual of death. Grave and porcelain, with baby blue lips and pale pink eyes, descending toward me … I imagine the end.”

Without an understanding of the lyrics, the song’s instruments become critical for each track. New Bermuda never slips up in its instrumentals, keeping its dreaminess throughout the entire listening experience.

Many metal fans won’t enjoy New Bermuda’s constantly changing sound and variety of influences, but these elements make the project an invigorating listen.

Topping Sunbather’s success was a difficult task, but Deafheaven managed to find an even fresher sound on their third album. It might not be as hardcore as many die-hard black metal fans might like, but the slower moments on New Bermuda allow Deafheaven to convey a multitude of emotions, making this album a must-listen for fans of almost any genre.