Deafheaven

support Redwood Hill
author AP date 11/08/14 venue Beta, Copenhagen, DEN

As I arrive at BETA for the third day in a row for the final concerts of this year's Dirty Days of Summer festivities, the look of the already sizable crowd strikes me as much more diverse than on the previous two days. Hardened fans of black metal are mingling with people you would ordinarily expect to find in the meat packing district listening to indie and electro; those who swear by post-rock are blending into groups of musicians from a diverse range of Danish rock and metal bands. It's a colourful sold-out crowd that stands in testimony to the widespread appeal of Deafheaven, who broke out of underground obscurity to mainstream appreciation last year, and who for BETA constitute something of a scoop. Read on to find out what I thought of this virgin live experience with the band.

All photos courtesy of Philip B Hansen / philipbh.com

Redwood Hill

Has there ever been a time when Redwood Hill failed to impress? I cannot claim to have seen all of their performances (I even missed them at Copenhell this year due to DJ:ing duty), but the eight times I have seen them have borne witness to a band, whose consistency is nigh absurd. Just prior to their concert tonight, I entertain the irrational hope that they'll succumb to catastrophe - simply so that my ninth time reviewing them live would take a different tone, use different adjectives, and not read like a fan letter. But 'alas', now that the revered Psyke Project are preparing to call it a day in less than two months, Redwood Hill are primed for inheriting the title of best live band in Denmark (with the appendage of by far for true measure) - a postulate they seem hellbent on proving this evening.

As ever, Redwood Hill place huge emphasis on the visual aesthetic. All five members are clad entirely in black, with vocalist Marco Sewohl & bassist Jens Veggerby completing the image with hoods obscuring their faces. And when he is not thrashing his head and limbs in violent movements during the profuse chaotic moments in songs like "Aten" or "Dybbuk", Sewohl resigns himself to the rear, crouching or turning his back toward us so as to pass the spotlight onto Veggerby and the remaining musicians, guitarists Brian Michelsen & Tobias Lind Rasmussen and drummer Andreas Jauernik Voigt, in the atmospheric instrumental passages that form just as vital a part in the band's music. Indeed, Redwood Hill are experts at balancing the psychotic with the beautiful, as evidenced by the marriage of melancholy and madness in new song "Microgravity".

When Redwood Hill unroll one of their many instrumental sections, it's like the band members are not even here; each is lost in some other world. And yet, the atmosphere remains intense and intimate when such a traversal takes place at the beginning of "Tristesse", the quintet providing the soundtrack for passage through some eerie wormhole. It's commendable how well the band are able to depersonify themselves and melt into the music; the performance remains wordless until Voigt breaks the skin on his snare drum and Sewohl is forced into telling us about the next song, "Cytherean", which is aired for the first time here ahead of the release of their new album (hopefully) late this year. It's pure bred Redwood Hill stuff, albeit with an introduction of grandiose dual clean vocals near the end, and leaves me salivating in anticipation as the five piece step backstage.

Deafheaven

Although the bar is now set high, as soon as Deafheaven emerge onto the stage there is the sense that we're to experience something truly special tonight - a sentiment echoed by the mad, bulging glare and subtle, impatient bodily sway of vocalist George Clarke as his fellow founding member, guitarist Kerry McCoy lets rip the tremolo introduction to "Dream House" off last year's breakthrough album "Sunbather". Throughout the course of the 1-hour set, the spotlight rests firmly on Clarke, his shrill yet artful screams drilling through the mass of bodies before him like a storm of icicles. Not that the remainder of the band, completed by guitarist Shiv Mehra, bassist Stephen Clark and drummer Daniel Tracy, are any shyer in their expression; they, like Clarke, are bristling with energy in their demeanour and movements.

Much has been said of the integrity of Deafheaven since the release of "Sunbather", black metal aficionados bemoaning their unorthodox approach to the genre and, in Denmark at least, dismissing it as hipster black metal. True enough, the melodies employed lean toward the uplifting and bittersweet, but the blastbeat driven rhythm section and Clarke's style of screaming certainly have their primary origins in Norwegian black metal - not post-metal or shoegaze. Deafheaven do possess an assortment of songs with little or nothing to do with black metal, but the five picks for the night - "Dream House", "Sunbather", "From the Kettle unto the Coil", "The Pecan Tree" and, in the encore, "Unrequited" - all represent the extreme end of the band's repertoire; the songs that - even the band knows this - work much better live than the quiet contemplation that adds depth to their albums. These are used in limited quantities to constitute transitions between the songs (both "Irresistible" and "Please Remember", but first and utmost, Deafheaven's intention tonight is to saw through us with tangible power and olympic precision.

How the five musicians can sustain such immaculacy, such a high level of precision, whilst never compromising on the passion of their performance baffles me, but somehow they pull it off. Whether it's the inspired drumming by Tracy, the exquisite interplay of disparaging tones and melodies, or the endurance of Clarke's vocal chords in songs that never fall beneath the 9-minute mark; there is something utterly mesmerising about Deafheaven in the live setting. It is here, in the sweat soaked intimacy of a 150 cap venue that their music truly becomes transcendental. Like a hurricane of light, their post-black metal grandeur blows us off our feet and sends us deep into a state where nothing matters any longer but the music. And that, to me, is the hallmark of a nigh perfect show. Would that it had been a little longer…

9

Setlist:

  • Dream House
  • (Irresistible)
  • Sunbather
  • From the Kettle unto the Coil
  • (Please Remember)
  • The Pecan Tree

--Encore--

  • Unrequited

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