When San Francisco kind-of-metal-but-also-kind-of-not five-piece Deafheaven released their sophomore album, 2013’s breakout “Sunbather,” it was as if they had been born just to be divisive. “Sunbather” was a wall of intensity with a whirlwind of guitars, pounding double kick drums and throat-shredding screams from singer George Clarke, with a few added dashes of My Bloody Valentine shoegaze and an uplifting sound that made it palatable to critics. Said critics hailed the album and Deafheaven as the next evolution in metal and extreme music, which resulted in purists branding them as gentrifiers and rejecting “hipster black metal.”
As a metal purist who also appreciates forward-thinking bands with new sounds, I have both defended Deafheaven fiercely and argued that they should not be held as messiahs. Though I adored “Sunbather,” I understood the criticisms, even when they became hyperbolic. Deafheaven themselves never claimed to be anything but a band trying to make good music, and that singular purpose has manifested itself as a great musical experience in their third album, 2015’s “New Bermuda.” Like “Sunbather,” the five songs are long, singular pieces that add up to a unique hour and show various non-metal influences of the band’s. Other than that, it is a totally different record, not that I am complaining.
“New Bermuda” begins with “Brought to the Water,” and the new sound is instant: down-tuned guitars chugging darker and faster metal riffs, with brutalizing drums. The vocals are still unintelligible shrieks, but they are scarier and more metal than they were in the past. Deafheaven still drifts into dreamier, more “indie” sounds in the bridge, but as soon as those show up and you relax, the band brings the shred right back and smashes you into submission. “Luna” and “Baby Blue” show a renewed use of Deafheaven’s black metal roots, being based in fast, tremolo-picked guitars and lyrics about personal anguish and suffering. These songs, each clocking in at 10 minutes long, fill out the sound of “New Bermuda” in a way that I can only describe as crushing. You will be energized and amazed by them, as well as feel the intensity in each note.
“Come Back” is the darkest song on the album, with extra reverb on Clarke’s vocals giving the lyrics an extra punch. “I imagined the overcome and fell to my knees before the endless truth of instability and futility,” he screams, sounding almost in pain as lead guitarist Kerry McCoy hammers his strings with everything he has. The descending notes make the listener feel as if they are falling into despair, until a sudden acoustic bridge leads into the final song “Gifts for the Earth.” Like the tide in the ocean, Clarke evokes images of death and the sea over a wave of guitars and drums, bringing a strange beauty to a song that is essentially describing Clarke’s dreams of drowning. I was not expecting everything I heard on the album, but I mean that in the best possible way. Nobody wanted a copy of “Sunbather,” and though I still understand (while vehemently disagreeing) with criticisms of Deafheaven’s image and sound, I would ask listeners to open their mind, and their ears, and be washed away by “New Bermuda.” Even if you do not like it, it will stick with you.