DEAFHEAVEN – NEW BERMUDA


Release: October 2 via ANTI-
Rating: 5/7


they fondly thinking to allay
Thir appetite with gust, instead of Fruit
Chewd bitter Ashes, which th’ offended taste
With spattering noise rejected”
– John Milton, Paradise Lost

In 2011 Deafheaven played an awkward set at Sound and Fury. Most of the tens of spectators were visibly disenchanted, killing time until (insert generic hardcore band) came on. I pitied and hoped for the band then.

Four years after that little sadness, Deafheaven have attained loud rock sainthood, with their 2013 opus Sunbather (Deathwish) seeded in many thousands of ears, on the Billboard 200, in Apple ads and in Metacritic’s laurels for best-reviewed album of that year. With practice and the weight of prominence, their live shows have matured into a cathartic event, overflowing with fervor, bravura, physical abandon and so, so many stans, some actually dressed in vocalist George Clarke’s exact outfit — thanks, Pitchfork!

Naturally, there are high stakes in the creation of a follow-up to something often called “perfect.” The burden of brilliance is repetition. And so, New Bermuda.

And so, disappointment.

It would seem that they’ve been sucked through the hole they punched in the roof. The record asserts a Deafheaven that is woefully lost or losing, clouding the distinction between what is truly epic and what is histrionic, sweating away their grasp on the light they once made their own. That is not to say they erred in not writing a second Sunbather, but that the inspiration and magnitude of their past work has fallen off, skinned by shakiness and a motif of artistic choices that are simply annoying, depressing the substance and sublimity of the rest.

It’s perplexing. New Bermuda is a moon phasing in the belly, threatening to burst, a thing which desires to be born alive.

Where there is an incredibly heavy build-up to a snap of melody, there is a vapid thrash beatdown to supplant it. Where there is a dulcet piano coda, there is an overdriven stadium rock solo to shadow it. Sometimes it’s a sustained ugliness, sometimes the misstep is quiet or brief. Nonetheless each song is polluted, imperfected. While I commend the agency of the artists, tenacity has severed and sullied the divinity to be had in smart songwriting. “Gifts for the Earth” would be an incomparable song, if only it didn’t sour after four and a half minutes of delectable speed into the miserable theme of a coal town dive bar. Amazing initially and finally, “Brought to the Water” suffers from a mortifying — I squirm with embarrassment when it comes through my speakers — guitar solo in its midsection, as does “Baby Blue,” which exacerbates the odium of a track that consists of incessant chugging for its final half. Around every flowered corner of this album, there is the sigh of tasting that which is unpalatable. But there are flowers yet.

I read perhaps two less-than-gushing reviews of Deafheaven’s Sunbather. I only remember one, wherein the author complained that the vocals were an interrupt of color, a useless blanket over Kerry McCoy’s genius compositions. With New Bermuda Clarke’s dialect has become vile, imbibing and spitting the shining smoke of heavier instrumentation and flayed lyrics. This cultivated furor extends as well to the band’s technical finesse. At present they’re playing metal, post-rock and shoegaze better than most purist acts ever will.

For all the disillusionment of certain passages, the majority of the minutes here are devoted to hot, entrancing spaces. As they bubble and blast without deformity, without meaningless experiment scarred upon their pulse, “Luna” and “Come Back” are the two songs I have no qualms about calling “good.” Every other song, if amorphous on the whole, has true magnificence somewhere in it.

The serein of this record, the gorgeousness expected, is derived from a palette of voyage and domesticity, the incalculable range and atom of what is pleasing to the ear, if challenging to the heart. It is the cooing blood of blast beats, the petit filter-ghosts plucked out, the immense thrum of glittering chords, the silence issuing forth a few shushed notes and a hundred other things which communicate through poetries and trace the funny bone upwards. The ecstasy of sense in consuming New Bermuda is dampened by the negatives and cannot be continuous, but it comes again, again all the same. The album sketches a crooked constellation of emotional amends until its heel is reached, a body sliding down, slowing in the tar of cosmos, received at the bottom by a shore of hands.

***

At Sound and Fury a handful of people slouching over the stage, nodding their heads in accord with the spectacle, had the singular experience of being spat on by George Clarke every time he opened his nervous mouth to howl. And they stayed like that, enduring, their fondness enduring despite.

New Bermuda is not a tantalizing precipitation into heaven. Rather, it is real, espousing the rule of dirty beauty and working it masterfully, which amounts to a complex victory, a black vein throbbing bellicose in the stem of an orchid, shaking its leaves and disappointing. Overlook the disfigurements, recognize the drama and uproar which contrived them and this moth may blur into a butterfly. Or just hit that fast-forward.

At times this album feels unlovable. At times this album commands all love.