Written by: AP on 12/12/2013 15:34:48

It tends to be the case that anything off the Deathwish inc. roster comes with a guarantee of top tier quality - such is the experience, expertise and scrutiny of its founder, the enigmatic Jacob Bannon. It's thence that the critically acclaimed new records by Touché Amoré, Modern Life is War & Doomriders (to mention only a few) have arrived this year, and it is in such company, and with the appropriate plaudits, that San Francisco, CA born black/post-metal group Deafheaven unleash their second studio album "Sunbather".

It could be argued that Deafheaven's expression is antithetical to black metal (mind you, not in the sense that, as my colleague MBC recently enlightened me, the so-called white metal bands which applied religious lyrics to traditional Norwegian black metal were) by virtue of the atmosphere it conjures: the tone is perpetually uplifting, and traces of the dark, forlorn or unsettling melodies common to the genre are nowhere to be heard. Why I choose to label it black metal, then, stems from the style of drumming - heavily reliant on blast beats - professed by Daniel Tracy, the usage of razor sharp tremolo by guitarist Kerry McCoy, and the sharp shrieks of vocalist George Clarke. As its title so cleverly insinuates, "Sunbather" essentially sounds like Wolves in the Throne Room bathed in light, or what the American eco-black metal crew would sound like if interpreted by the late Rinoa.

As you might have already guessed from the references in the previous paragraph, "Sunbather" has quite a grandeur to it, with songs like the brilliant opener "Dream House" sounding as enormous and luminous as the Sun itself. There's so much to delve into, whether it be the majesty of the tremolo riff cutting in around the 00:50 mark; Tracy's unreal histrionics between 01:15 and 01:38; or the upbeat gallop, which sucks me into a strange dance routine, immediately after. Less is more is certainly not a philosophy which Deafheaven subscribe to and yet - neither "Dream House" itself nor the remaining tracks suffer from an exaggerated amount of detail. They have the advantage of spreading that wealth across songs that rarely clock in at less than 6 minutes, exposing aspects to their sound in passages, and through transitions executed with the utmost finesse.

What irks me slightly about "Sunbather" is the band's insistence of advertising their love of shoegaze with long drawn and disconnected songs like "Please Remember" and "Windows", neither of which contributes additional allure to the album. Both consist primarily of odd sampling, ghastly spoken word and feedback, and can hold no candle to the post- and black metal grandeur otherwise on offer. Just as with Cult of Luna's latest "Vertikal" LP, Deafheaven would have done well to shave these two songs off; and left it to the magisterial "Vertigo" and "The Pecan Tree", which collectively account for some 26 minutes of music, to conclude the proceedings at 49 minutes rather than 59. But even so, the two nuggets of anonymity can easily be ignored when a riff like the one around the 08:10 mark in "Vertigo" drills in. It's an absolutely otherworldly black metal riff of the Winterfylleth and Drudkh school, which illustrates successfully the sensation implied by the song's title, spiraling into the abyss at terminal velocity. It is much less optimistic in tone, though no less evocative or cathartic.

Together with segments of "The Pecan Tree", the transition into darker territory produces a stark contrast - one only magnified by the schizophrenic to-and-fro between light and dark in this album-concluding track. Had Deafheaven opted to compile "Sunbather" without the aforementioned two tracks, they would have been verging on brilliance, but alas, for the present, they must settle for my consideration of the record as very good indeed.


Download: Dream House, Vertigo, The Pecan Tree
For the fans of: Rinoa, Vallendusk, Winterfylleth, Wolves in the Throne Room
Listen: Facebook

Release date 11.06.2013
Deathwish inc.

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