Deafheaven return with darker, more explosive sounds that fire up, fully immerse ‘New Bermuda’

Photo by Kristen Coffer

Photo by Kristen Coffer

Maybe this has been going on all along, or maybe I’m just now waking up to it, but there are a ton of bands that, when they put out a record, they immediately get dismissed. Look, I love metal and defend it always, but there are some things that are just utterly stupid to me. Like if a band does something positive in a popularity sense, the genre will die.

So I dangle my metal card today (as I did when discussing Myrkur) with Deafheaven, who have returned with their third record “New Bermuda.” I don’t have a metal card. It’s so dumb. I know. The way I’ve always looked at metal is part of it is rebellion. It’s a lashing out at the norm, but when bands do that within the genre, it seems to be some unforgivable sin. Well, that’s boring and I don’t care to make that a part of what shapes my listening. I’ve always enjoyed Deafheaven’s music, and I do to this day. Their greatest “transgression” is they don’t adhere to a formula or tradition and always pushed boundaries, something I always consider pretty metal. Oh, and they’re popular beyond metal, another miscue over which they have no control. OK all tongue-in-cheek aside, Deafheaven have done some pretty good stuff thus far, and their new record is pretty surprising.

Deafheaven cover“Sunbather” was a pretty dreamy record, a document of desire and weird existence where you try to make sense of your life, your surroundings, and your nature. Their new record “New Bermuda” musically is something a little different. The music is much heavier and more abrasive for the most part, yet when they pull back, it’s more atmospheric and interesting. They add new twists to their music, most of it in the guitar work, and they keep building a universe that is wholly theirs. Their jump to Anti (home to life-long bad-ass artists Neko Case and Tom Waits) seems fitting, and a whole new audience will be exposed to their sounds. I fail to see the negativity in that.

“Brought to the Water,” which many people of the Internet have heard by now, kicks off with scathing noise, bells chiming, and a total eruption, with the guitars from Kerry McCoy and Shev Mehra swelling and creating texture, but also chugging like never before. The vocals even are a little different, more calculated and meaner, with the sound feeling as metallic as this band ever has. In fact, it doesn’t really sound like Deafheaven of the past at all. Melodies sweep in, atmosphere takes hold, but before everything gives way, there’s a final savage burst before pianos drip. “Luna” is completely volcanic at the start, some of the heaviest moments of this band’s catalog. The vocals are wrenching, exactly what you’d expect from vocalist George Clarke, while more colors flood the scene, emotions surge, and quiet eventually takes hold. Notes ring out, hinting at a swarm of beauty, but things get ruptured as the power surges again and the end blisters. “Come Back” starts making your head feel like it’s floating through the clouds, with the guitars rolling in and lulling you into numbness. Then you’re ripped into an inferno, with a thunderous pace, vicious growls, and total savagery. That pace keeps up, creating billowing smoke for the bulk of its run time, before it folds into the exact opposite environment. Chilled-out, ’70s-style guitars sweep in, feeling breezy and surfy, like you’re suddenly rolling alongside an expressway toward sandy beaches, where you will let yourself burn.

“Baby Blue” starts feeling spacey and rushing, almost like you’re expecting a mid-tempo rock song, complete with impassioned singing to come out of the other end. We know better now, but this also isn’t a total thunderstorm like the rest of the record. They pull back here a bit (even Clarke’s piercing growls settle down), and the wah-infused soloing makes for a nice change of pace, a completely different kind of headspace. Violence later erupts, as you knew it would, with all elements bursting and overflowing, the vocals crushing, and the music prowling toward a warm pocket of synth that fades into ambiance and transportation warning about traffic restrictions on the George Washington Bridge. Surreal stuff. Closer “Gifts for the Earth” is the one that still isn’t feeling totally right to me. There’s a fluid post-punk feel to the front end, a foggy bit that feels like it would benefit from some actual singing rather than the growling. Or perhaps that odd juxtaposition of sounds is supposed to make your skin crawl, and if so, that’s where I am with this. A psychedelic mist later takes over, marring your psyche, and as the track winds down, the bomb drops, the vocals sound as if Clarke’s guts are being ripped out (and maybe they are metaphorically), and the torment slowly dissolves into a bed of acoustic guitars and pianos as everything fades away.

No matter what Deafheaven do, they’re going to have their detractors. It sounds like from “New Bermuda” that they don’t pay a hell of a lot of attention to outside forces, nor should they. This is a heavy and channeled as they’ve sounded to date, a darker side to a band that already reveled in morose thoughts, loss, and out-of-touch-desires. Deafheaven have come at us with three completely different records now, and, like them or not, they remain an enthralling, relevant force.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This review was written and posted in advance before the story of Kerry McCoy’s use of homosexual slurs on Twitter came to light. We don’t yet understand the context of his tweets, though we certainly do not condone hateful speech toward anyone of any sexual identification, nor anyone at all. It’s unfortunate these tweets are now putting a bit of a pall over a pretty great record. Hopefully he clarifies and apologizes.