Deafheaven – Sunbather

Sunbather cover art

Artist Deafheaven
Album Sunbather
Genre Post-Metal | Black Metal
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Label Deathwish Inc.
Release 11 June 2013
Rating:  Must Listen

I’ve been struggling with writing this review for going on a month and a half now, and in a way that I haven’t yet struggled with writing one. Far from being an unlistenable album that I don’t *want* to review (which, to be honest, I just wouldn’t review), “Sunbather” absolutely has blown me away. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve listened to it since I first got it, and I’ve just struggled with putting the proverbial ink to paper. That said, here goes nothing.

To say this record is a progression and shows more depth as a band since their last full length, “Roads to Judah” would be an understatement. On “Roads“, there always seemed to be a bit of a struggle with the mixing of elements in the band’s sound, though people that have been paying attention shouldn’t be all that surprised at the growth found on “Sunbather” had they heard the Mogwai cover (“Punk Rock/Cody“) that the band released as their half of a split with fellow Bay Area band Bosse-de-Nage. Every mixture that Deafheaven has experimented with, from their demo through “Roads“, has been absolutely nailed on this album. From the black metal blast beats and harshness of the vocals, to the welcome addition of drummer Daniel Tracy, to the ethereal shoegaze and post-rock guitar moments, everything falls into place absolutely perfectly.

The album centers largely around a moment that vocalist George Clarke experienced when he briefly moved back home – driving around a well-to-do neighborhood, he spotted a girl sunbathing on her front yard, and began thinking about the contrast between her seemingly simple, easy life and his own, fraught with mistakes and failures. Clarke has explained that it was a very difficult thing for him to process, and thus it became something of a central theme for the record after discussing it with guitarist Kerry McCoy (the only other permanent member of the band, at least as of yet).

Even the brief interlude tracks here feel like so much more than just filler, they do quite a bit to carry the tone from song to song, and tie things together. One of these tracks, “Please Remember” also features a guest appearance by Neige from Alcest (and a ton of other bands) reading lines from “The Unbearable Lightness of Being“, a passage which Clarke describes as “really important” as it deals largely with insecurity. This again ties in with the contrasting lives and emotions felt at seeing the girl sunbathing, and it also presents itself elsewhere throughout the record. Perhaps most notably in the closing lines of the final track, “The Pecan Tree” in which Clarke declares “I am my father’s son/I am no one/I cannot love/It’s in my blood”. Here he speaks about his actual father, and how he has followed a bit in his footsteps by becoming emotionally detached. It’s an absolutely soul-bearing moment, one that Clarke says he questions “whether or not I should have done it”.

Deafheaven will forever be a band that people argue about, quibbling about whether or not they’re a “true” black metal band, which honestly is something I think the band never gave a shit about. For any listener to do so is to deny themselves of an absolutely incredible record, one that defies (and in some way helps define) genres. Comparisons have, of course, been made to other post black metal bands like the aforementioned Alcest, Amosoeurs, Hate Forest, etc., and while similarities no doubt exist, the bands are all different enough to carry on doing their own thing. Deafheaven does their thing very, very well, and with “Sunbather“, have undoubtedly released one of the greatest albums of the year. I know, it came out in June with a full 7 months of music yet to be released, but I can say with great certainty that I’ll stand by that statement. Others have proclaimed this album to be a “pinnacle of American black metal”, on par with Weakling‘s “Dead as Dreams“, and while I can’t say that I disagree with that at all, I think that “Sunbather” is far more of a game changer than “Dead as Dreams“, even as much as it heavily inspired other great bands (Wolves in the Throne Room is the obvious one). There’s so much more depth, more to be heard, more to be felt here than anywhere on Weakling’s lone release, and to me, that speaks volumes about what this band has accomplished in such a short time, and what they’re capable of in the future.