Thursday, December 12, 2013

Year-End Album Reviews # 1:

Sunbather by Deafheaven

Deathwish Records, 2013

While I've been absent from this site for sixteen months or so, it would be a mistake for any hypothetical reader to assume this means that I've been disconnected from music over that period. I've actually probably purchased more new music during 2013 than I had during any year in the last ten. And because there's always a little elf crouched on my medulla whispering to me from inside my skull of the guilt I assume in not writing, the thought had occurred to me recently that a sequence of year-end posts here chronicling my 2013 music purchases might be just the thing to get me back into a schedule of writing regularly.

Plus, you know, a lot of things happened this year, and I thought I might want to write about those things, too. So we'll see if I can make something of this.

I hadn't pressured myself to write anything immediately, and I kind of figured I'd begin posting if at all later in the month, but this afternoon, I found myself posting a review of the quite remarkable Sunbather on Rolling Stone. When the motherfuckers (or more precisely, their motherfucking page scripts) told me I needed a Facebook account to post a comment, I tried not to be upset, realizing I should have been posting here in the first place, anyway. Other than a little bit of editing, the post here is what I would have posted at RS, except for this first part where I very uncharacteristically defended Chuck Eddy.

Read about this album in Pitchfork's 'Best New Music' section, and my imagination did some synchronized backflips to the black metal/shoegaze/ post-metal labels dished out therein. What could there be not to like? Three buzzy genres are better than one, are they not?

Then, looking around for more reviews, trying to qualify the outlay of funds, I found it interesting (and probably predictable) that in addition to a slew of gushing reviews, the album has also received something of a Liturgy-style "hipster-metal" backlash.

Hmmm. Point in its favor, maybe?

Now that I own, and now that I've listened, I think the hipster criticism from fullbore metalheads that has touched this record is illuminating. This is a stew with a lot of ingredients, some of them artier than even the more enlightened metal freak can stand. Sure, there's Cradle of Filth and Enslaved in this soup, but there's also a lot of Mono, and maybe even Explosions in the Sky. And I dunno, what does your average Cryptopsy fan think about Alcest? This is music deliberately designed to pull in an artful way from a bunch of genres, not all of them dressed in black, not all of them drenched in the sanguinary. The cover is a sort of coral color, for the Anti-Christ's sake. The package is purposely minimalist, the fonts arty, and the lyrics--though positively indecipherable as you listen--are as far from mainstream metal as you can possibly get, reading like they're a kind of tortured existential diary rather than an excerpt from some medieval grimoire, as would, you know, be the normal expectation with extreme metal.

Deafheaven clearly don't give a fuck about disappointed shredders, however, and they're clearly proud of the out-of-genre ingredients they've cooked in. Metal--especially extreme metal--is foremostly designed to assault. Deafheaven's music by turns does exactly that. But at its best, this music also enfolds you, within an intricate and calculated architecture of its own guitars. It appeals to the visceral as metal does, but it also appeals to the intellectual as the progressive stuff does, and it appeals to the transcendental as the post-rock and post-metal stuff does. It's got a wingspan measured in the tens of yards. It is an ambitious skyscraping monument, and a gravesite defiled. It is truly all over the fucking place.

My criticism would be that while this draws on a lot of stuff I love, the sound is not something unmistakably Deafheaven, if you know what I mean. My favorite bands are always gonna be ones with an instantly identifiable sound. You hear 'em, even if for only 30 seconds, and you know who they are. It doesn't appear that Deafheaven, as well-seasoned as their music is, are one of these bands. At least not yet.

And if their familiarity with the Mono canon works in the band's favor, if the part that reminds me of Rodan's "Bible Silver Corner" is a credit, if the opening from "Dreamhouse" channels Enslaved, if the reborn/apocalyptic spoken word/found sound parts in "Windows" remind me of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sunbather isn't as good as Under The Pipal Tree, isn't as good as Rusty, isn't as good as Ruun and it isn't as good as that F-Sharp thing.

So I can't call Sunbather an instant classic, as others have been wont to do, or give it 100 points, or five stars, or an amp turned up to 11, or whatever else. Still, this is rich, gorgeous, intense music from a band who have every reason to get better, and one whom I'd like to see in 2014, and it looks like I will actually have the chance in March.

Four stars it is.

File Under:Post-Progressive Black Metalgaze


TAD said...

Hot damn! Welcome back! More, please...?

rastronomicals said...

Hey TAD. I hope to write 4 or 5 more album reviews by the end of the year, hoepfully one as soon as Monday. Melanie had expressed interest in authoring a post on Bob Dorough ("Blue Xmas"), and a post on a dastardly Christmas cover had occurred as well. So stay tuned and happy holidays.