Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Deafheaven: Sunbather

Deafheaven is a pretty polarizing band, and for every person gushing about the transcendental nature of its new full-length, Sunbather, there’s a metal purist dismissing the group as another “hipster” act like Liturgy, and then going back to listening to something far more authentic (i.e. from Sweden). The problem with this particular distinction is that it’s based on an inherently flawed perception of a band that has far more in common with screamo acts like Envy than, say, Entombed.

This should be pretty evident from the album’s opener, “Dream House,” a nine-minute announcement that’s as emotionally resonant as an Explosions In The Sky song, but filled with enough blast beats and skull-rattling screams to keep it from ever ending up on the soundtrack for a series like Friday Night Lights. The trick is that the track—and Sunbather as a whole, for that matter—is teeming with enough surprising moments that it manages to avoid redundancy, one of the major pitfalls of bands in this genre. Whenever there’s a pause in the pandemonium, it’s impossible to know if the sonic trajectory is about to rise to the heavens or hit the ground, shattering everywhere.

If Sunbather (which is made up of seven seamless tracks that collectively last an hour) has a mission statement, it’s the title track, which opens with a shoegazing wall of noise before segueing into a half-time groove. Then, after being lulled into a dreamy state of relaxation, the double bass kicks back in and, all of the sudden, the listener is thrust back into a world of carefully controlled destruction. Deafheaven’s masterful control of these dynamics—loud and soft, fast and slow, metallic and melodious—are exactly why the band is so divisive; the trade-off being that those traits also make 14-minute opuses like “Vertigo” so engaging.

Deafheaven’s music isn’t about making things as heavy as possible. Instead, its approach is akin to a painter understanding that much of art’s beauty lies in the blank space on the canvas that makes the flashes of color that much more awe-inspiring. Deafheaven achieves this by slotting the deceptively simple and distortion-free segue “Irresistible” and the ambient, Godspeed You! Black Emperor-esque “Windows” into the madness. On their own, both of these tracks would sound out of place, but in context they keep Sunbather from sounding like multiple variations on the same musical formula, regardless of how awe-inspiring those variations might be.

Will the hype surrounding the album attract fair-weather fans that listen to it for weeks and then move on to the next buzzed-about band? Maybe, but that’s missing the point. What’s undeniable is that moments from Sunbather will resonate long after the pointless babble has died down, proving that sometimes the greatest beauty can only be found in the face of chaos.