We come to you today with two bands, both with their newest releases out on highly respected Deathwish Inc., and these two records could not be more diametrically opposed musically, yet they share a sort-of bond philosophically.
While a hardcore label at heart, Deathwish certainly doesn’t limit itself at all and has an open mind toward what it releases. That’s why, when their promos arrive, I never quite know what to expect. I anticipate the music will be heavy, uncompromising and honest, and lo and behold, it always is. However, their bands all have their own unique personalities, and none of them sound the same. That’s refreshing, and that’s what keeps Deathwish on my short list of labels that, when their records arrive, I make a point to stop what I’m doing and give them a listen. In addition, if you decide you want to be a patron of the label, they have one of the slickest, packed, reasonably priced web shops going, and if you fall in love with one of their bands, there’s no shortage of goods for you to enjoy.
Two of their more recent signings have new music in stores, one of which made one of my favorite records of the first half of 2011. We’ve had a few of those lately, have we not? Metal’s gotten pretty damn interesting the past couple months. The one I refer to here is the debut from San Francisco’s Deafheaven, who can be labeled as atmospheric black metal if you need a quick description, but they do much more than that, and their approach isn’t exactly in line with the rest of their genre. The other is from Touché Amoré, a young, hungry, bleeding-heart band that reminds me a hell of a lot of the groups that preceded the screamo, mainstream hardcore movement of the 2000s. Their music is raw, expressive and not necessarily something that’ll excite an old dude like me, but certainly they have a really bright future ahead of them.
We’ll start with Deafheaven and their debut full-length “Roads to Judah,” which has been in stores for several weeks now and is highly recommended. The band’s profile began to ignite right after the release of their demo last year, one that ripped eyes wide open and drew interest from labels that wanted to sign them. Deathwish was one of them, and while the interest was to do a re-release of the demo, the band instead opted to do the “Roads” record because they already had their vision and wanted to go full steam ahead. A wise choice was made by all it seems, because this album is a gushing, emotional effort that reminds me a bit of Wolves in the Throne Room and Altar of Plagues musically, but lyrically is built on themes of personal reflection and catharsis. So no Satan or blood or bedroom suicides or goats, and we’re thankful for that because that stuff’s overdone. Just from the gorgeous eruption of opener “Violet,” which begins with lucid post-rock before completely igniting, you can feel the heart and soul of this thing, and even if you don’t have the lyrics sheet in front of you, the personal journey being conveyed is obvious and sets up shop inside of you.
“Language Games” starts off sounding a lot more sinister, exploding like a drenching thunderstorm (which is odd as one is brewing as I type this) that may or may not have more dangerous elements. You just have to ride it out and see where you land. All the while, dangerous or not, you still find yourself oddly drawn to the cacophony. “Unrequited” seeps in quietly, with shoegazey arrangements not unlike, say, Explosions in the Sky or MONO, but eventually it rips itself apart, as the black metal lava rises to the surface, drums and cymbals are crushed, and fault lines are ripped asunder. “Tunnel of Trees” is pretty much the opposite, starting off in a whirlwind of hellish pummeling and savage shrieking before melting into a beautiful section of quiet guitar, lightly tapped drums, and tranquility. Even when the decibels return, it’s with a sense of melodic emoting and musical hope, even as the words, “A roaring river of blood, drowning the life out of all that was good,” lets you know that maybe isn’t the case at all. “Roads to Judah” is an infectious, moving, quite personal record that sounds like amends are trying to be made for past digressions, and perhaps the end result isn’t so bright. But that’s just one person’s interpretation, and chances are there will be many dissections. What can’t be disputed is the quality of this album, a collection that gives hope to black metal’s future and indicates that maybe new ideas, ways and means are possible and that the rigid rules are meant to be destroyed. I, for one, and brimming with hope that Deafheaven can redefine black metal as we know it.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/deafheaven
To buy “Roads to Judah,” go here: http://deathwishinc.com/estore/category/DEAFHEAVEN.html
To check their Shirts and Destroy shop, go here: http://www.shirtsanddestroy.com/deafheaven
For more on the label, go here: http://deathwishinc.com/
On the other hand are Touché Amoré, a Los Angeles band that reminds me a lot of early Thursday and their reckless expression (that band’s singer Geoff Rickly released TA’s debut album “… To Beat a Dead Horse” on his vinyl-only Collect, in conjunction with 6131). At times, Touché Amoré appear a little too honest for their own good on “Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me,” a little too unpolished, but that’s also what makes them stand out, so we’ll deal with that contradiction.
From the get go, frontman Jeremy Bolm stands out, his vocals not so much a hardcore-laced growl, but more like a dialog-driven shout. He’s talking to us, sounding like he’s reading straight from a journal or a hastily scribbled diatribe he wrote on a napkin or a menu, and clearly he’s a man finding his way through the world, dealing with past pain and transgressions, wading through current ones, sometimes putting too much of himself out there only to get stung in the process. I’d imagine – and please don’t read this as an insult or criticism – the audience for this band, and especially Bolm’s lyrics and approach, will appeal mostly to late teens/early 20s kids who are dealing with the same issues and sometimes just feel like lashing out and screaming into an empty room than taking time to settle down, breathe and figure out the best thing to do. We’ve all been there, and I’m sure some of our readers are still there, so it can be comforting to hear someone else saying – or screaming – the same thoughts that have gone through our own heads. I’d imagine older dudes like me, who just want to sit outside with a fucking iced tea, won’t get as much from this thematically, and I could see some of those folks perhaps being annoyed at such youthful self-torture. How soon we forget those dark, scary, confusing years. They don’t really go away, per se, but the things on which we dwell shift.
As for the music, it’s delivered in a compact package, with 13 songs ticking in a just a little under 21 minutes. That’s a major positive, because had this band gone further with the track listing or tried to drag these songs out longer, they could have had a problem on their hands. Instead, they pace and edit themselves just right, and it never overstays its welcome. They dash through the first four cuts, with opener “~” sounding a bit like early Against Me for its ferocity and unwillingness to conform, and then “Uppers/Downers,” “Crutch” and “Method Act” all blend together like one song, so it’s easy to lose track of where you are if you’re not paying attention. “Wants/Needs” is particularly bleak, with Bolm finding, “You learn a lot about a place when you see it for what it is”; and “Condolences” is built on somber piano, with unsettling ranting over top of it.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.toucheamore.com/
To buy “Parting the Sea Between Brightness and me,” go here: http://deathwishinc.com/estore/category/TOUCHEAMORE.html
Touché Amoré isn’t really my thing, to be honest. But again, that’s just me, and that’s not to suggest the record isn’t worthwhile (it is). I’m curious to hear where the band goes from here, and they seem to be a group that has serious potential that could become one of Deathwish’s major players. Again, as said, I imagine their audience skews far younger than I am, which obviously is to their benefit as part of my preconditions to going to most shows these days is that there is seating. Touché Amoré wouldn’t be too happy playing to a seated room, I’d imagine. As for Deafheaven, I think I’ve made my point. I’m about to take my daily walk, and that’s what I’m going to listen to while I’m sweating away in 90-degree temperature. Whatever camp you prefer, you’re not going to be let down when it comes to pure emotion and an album that’ll drain you after spending time listening. That’s really all you can ask for in a world of disposable music from equally disposable bands.