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Album Review
Deafheaven - Sunbather Album Cover

Deafheaven - Sunbather

Reviewed by
10
DeafheavenSunbather
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Record Label: Deathwish
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
There will undoubtedly be talk of how Deafheaven isn’t really a black metal band; that black metal purists will continue to think of them as “hipster metal” (which is one of the stupidest phrases I’ve ever heard in my life). There will also be comparisons to other bands that dabble in shoegaze and post-rock, but ultimately none of that matters when you write the kind of album Deafheaven has. What matters is that Sunbather (the band's second Deathwish release) is re-writing the book and is hands down one of the finest pieces of art in years.

That’s what it is – haunting, distressing, and passionate art. While Deafheaven is far from the first band to ever blend the multiple genres mentioned above together, Sunbather is the rare occurrence where it’s executed flawlessly and unpredictably. Basically, Sunbather has my heart in a vice.

There are four major moments (with an interlude between each one) throughout - chaotic moments, ambient moments, soft moments – and they’re all larger than life. Deafheaven takes the darkness of 2011’s fantastic Roads to Judah and amplifies it to dizzying new heights. The band’s beauty, ferocity, and fears are all laid out, as it’s one of the most personal and harrowing listening experiences I’ve ever had.

“Dream House” begins as if the sun is rising upon the black metal universe before hitting you in the throat with Daniel Tracy’s thundering drumming and George Clarke’s high-pitched yell. Kerry McCoy’s fluid guitar work takes the song through many bright highs and brilliant lows, serving as the perfect backdrop for Clarke’s heartbreaking lyrics. Throughout Sunbather, Clarke is painting a picture of overwhelming sorrow within the pursuit of perfection. The final passage of the song – ”I’m dying.”/Is it blissful?/”It’s like a dream.”/I want to dream. – entwines with McCoy’s hypnotic guitar sparks and supplies the first of many punches to the gut. Its extreme sadness – the desire for the unattainable – is washed out by the song’s colossal melody of post-rock/metal/whatever and carried out by the soft, beautiful piano-heavy interlude of “Irresistible.”

The bright pink cover of Sunbather aims to give you a calming sense of warmth despite the callous sting of futilely chasing life’s cruel idea of grandeur. It’s during the album’s title track that you truly discover the growth and maturation of Deafheaven. At first listen, you’ll hear the song unleash an intense display of power, but the devil’s in the dynamics, as Clarke’s ear-splitting howl is equally despondent as it is euphoric while McCoy’s guitar work initially shreds then soars throughout the exotically layered epic. The flurry of reverb works well with Tracy’s consistent hailstorm of percussion, combining to reach and eclipse the song’s zenith until quieted by tender quivers of dream-pop ambience. The ten-minute song is an excellent example of why the black metal comparison is laughable at times – this spits in the face of what you expect the genre to be.

Clarke is once again pursuing desire on the fourteen-minute “Vertigo.” The track’s first five minutes toil along in a Mogwai-like trance, lulling you in until the violence of Tracy’s vigorous percussion and Clarke’s shriek of unattainable luxury take over. Clarke’s biting words burrow into the natural core of humanity’s primal needs and wants as McCoy’s excellent sense of musicianship takes you through agonized climaxes and well-executed melodic shifts.

The spoken word from Stéphane Paut (of Alcest) on “Please Remember” harkens back to summer afternoon flashbacks before being swallowed up by the track’s scathing wall of noise, while the eerie “Windows” juxtaposes an audio recording of a drug deal along with an evangelist’s apocalyptic sermon amongst a haze of low tones and dead keys. These breaks in the movements (along with “Irresistible”) are much needed throughout the course of Sunbather – providing context and a moment to breathe for the listener.

And you’ll need every moment, as album finale “The Pecan Tree” wastes no time in eviscerating your ears and your heart. We get some reprieve when midway through the track a clean interlude highlights isolated, delicate tremolo picking, but it’s brief as it confidently builds into a powerful coaction of urgent chords and progressions. McCoy once again delivers an otherworldly riff towards the end of the action, coinciding perfectly with Clarke’s wail of I am my father’s son./I am no one./I cannot love./It’s in my blood. It’s the final devastating lyrical blow on a track that has Clarke recounting his guilt over not visiting his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother. It’s overwhelming stuff that plays against McCoy’s uncanny ear for hooks in a genre devoid of them. So while Clarke screams his heart out on the concrete, McCoy is countering that with an uplifting final riff that feels similar to the opening of “Dream House,” thus bringing Sunbather full circle. It’s that kind of ingenuity that sets this album apart from all others in 2013.

Sunbather is not for the weak-hearted. It's bold, intelligent, and demanding - taking all your emotions and senses and beating them to a pulp while going to a place sonically that’s essentially been untouched by its peers. Even in the rare cases where I'm not listening to Sunbather, I'm still thinking about it. Sunbather is unapologetically ambitious, honest, and awe-inspiring. It is one of the three best albums I’ve heard in the past five years or so and definitely the best album many will hear all year. Deafheaven has shattered whatever you thought a metal band was capable of, so much so I can’t even fathom what they have in store for LP3.

10/10
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 143
07:11 AM on 06/10/13
#2
theotheryabs
There's a Melody in Everything
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Holy shit.
07:11 AM on 06/10/13
#3
Tom1191
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I really like this record.
07:15 AM on 06/10/13
#4
fernandaantunes
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such an amazing album
07:22 AM on 06/10/13
#5
phaynes1
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Really fantastic review. Best album in years.
07:28 AM on 06/10/13
#6
TuskandTemper
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a 10/10 across the board? come on man. you're clearly just a fan.

creativity, musicianship, lyrics, lasting value all given a 10/10? that's ridiculous. It's almost as if you believe that a band has never recorded a conversation before...wow that's just 10/10 creative right there... It's a shame that your biased love for this band stopped you from writing something true.
07:29 AM on 06/10/13
#7
Drew Beringer
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all reviews are biased. I am definitely a fan. Great comment.
07:47 AM on 06/10/13
#8
weworemasks
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Good review, good album. Obviously not a 10/10 for me, so I think the review could've done without the phrase:

"and indisputably the best album you’ll hear this year."

Being biased is one thing, but pushing it on readers is entirely different. Other than that, good stuff!
07:47 AM on 06/10/13
#9
cubsml34
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AOTY so far for me too. After I'm done with finals in two days I'm going to give this another in depth listen to confirm it. At first I was like ok this is good, but when tracks three and four came around my jaw dropped to the floor from the sounds I was listening to and emotions I was feeling haha
08:05 AM on 06/10/13
CellarGhosts
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oh god and here I thought people were finally done bitching about albums being scored 10/10.
08:09 AM on 06/10/13
Drew Beringer
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Good review, good album. Obviously not a 10/10 for me, so I think the review could've done without the phrase:

"and indisputably the best album you’ll hear this year."

Being biased is one thing, but pushing it on readers is entirely different. Other than that, good stuff!
I'm a pusher, man!
08:10 AM on 06/10/13
SpyKi
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Yeah, come on Drew. You're clearly just a fan of this album.
08:11 AM on 06/10/13
bandini
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Great review
08:12 AM on 06/10/13
Cody Nelson
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Album fucking rules. Great review, Drew. Agree pretty much wholeheartedly with the praise.
08:29 AM on 06/10/13
jordalsh
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a 10/10 across the board? come on man. you're clearly just a fan.

creativity, musicianship, lyrics, lasting value all given a 10/10? that's ridiculous. It's almost as if you believe that a band has never recorded a conversation before...wow that's just 10/10 creative right there... It's a shame that your biased love for this band stopped you from writing something true.
ugh.

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