DAILY RECORD: Deafheaven

Posted by: Necci – Apr 01, 2011


Deafheaven - Roads To Judah (Deathwish Inc.)

The past few years have been a boon to any hesitant black metal fans out there: the type who might like some of the music, but couldn't fully get behind the questionable politics, the cartoonish makeup, or the tendency for production values to either be overly slick or to make the albums sound like they were recorded in a tin can. There has been a steady upswing in the number of bands who can incorporate a melodic sensibility and decent, though not quite radio-ready, recording quality without losing the harsh, frantic edge that the characterizes the genre. Though black metal purists often distance themselves from more atmospheric acts, bands like Wolves In The Throne Room, Altar Of Plagues, and Amesouers have catalyzed a degree of positive critical attention that the genre has rarely been afforded.

I would hate to sell short the creativity and the consistent quality of Deafheaven's debut album by lumping it in with the whole atmospheric black metal sound, but it can be a bit difficult to avoid, especially when the first four minutes of the album sound like they could have been outtakes from a Mono album. This gauzy post-rock/shoegaze melodicism permeates the record, but doesn't taint it with cheap sentimentality or temper its aggression. The band counterbalances the more ethereal side with a fairly dry, unfettered production and occasional forays into territory not far removed from 90s DIY hardcore, such as the middle section of “Unrequited,” which could have fit comfortably on the criminally under-appreciated One Eyed God Prophecy LP.

What's great about Roads To Judah can be summed up in one word: songwriting. A good chunk of the metal releases out now rely on a string of riffs and breakdowns, and the relatively-nascent subgenre of atmospheric black metal has elicited much of its interest through a seemingly incongruous juxtaposition of cultural and aesthetic signifiers. However, Deafheaven understand that simply writing heavy music, pretty music, or some combination of the two isn't a sufficient end product in and of itself. Their songs are all a series of graceful transitions and dynamic shifts in timbre, rather than marathon blastbeat sessions or one effects-laden crescendo after another. This is a distinction which not only separates them from the majority of their contemporaries, but has provided the basis for a memorable and compelling release.

By Graham Scala