NEW BERMUDA by Deafheaven
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Luna”, “Come Back”
I, like many, was at first hesitant towards the blackgaze and post-black metal movements in the early 2010s, but quickly learned to embrace it. A refreshing twist for the bloated black metal scene before it, Deafheaven’s SUNBATHER hit as hard as sophomore LPs could in 2013. Incorporating a deluge of post-rock influences thanks to guitarist Kerry McCoy (Twitter controversy aside), the album strayed away from solely relying on the black metal staples of rapid tremolo picking and blast beats. Vocalist George Clarke’s screams prevailed through most of the album, keeping a sense of perilous urgency whilst being buried under massive instrumentation for accessibility’s sake, since an unthreatening album cover wasn’t enough. To make things more interesting, every other track was a Godspeed-esque atmospheric bit providing sequential breaks. Though this trick lost its appeal after the second and third time, it gave a deeper meaning to the piece as a whole, especially with the inclusion of audio from an actual drug deal involving McCoy himself. The dynamic between the evocative rock rhythms and menacing black metal shredding was exceptional, paving the way for other atmospheric black metal bands such as An Autumn for Crippled Children and Alcest (who downed the Kool-aid even more so with the release of a straight-laced shoegaze album). SUNBATHER remained at the forefront of this trend, succeeding more than any other release by having these contrasting elements flow so nicely with each other whilst retaining an inspiring yet dark energy about it without any jarring tonal shifts.
Deafheaven’s new album NEW BERMUDA tries to do more or less the same thing that SUNBATHER did but to a greater extent, and the results are a bit confusing. The most noticeable difference is how Deafheaven trades in shorter atmospheric tracks for five long ones. Most of the time with black metal and even post-rock of this caliber, long tracks are a huge plus if the band knows how to ebb and flow their energy well and end with an epic crescendo. Sadly, the band seems to run out of ideas early on and are so adamant on pushing their clash between post-rock and black metal that it almost becomes a gimmick as the album continues.
The opener, “Brought to the Water” starts off nicely with some ominous church bells and promptly becomes a somewhat traditional American black metal track, but with Clarke’s vocals sadly even more buried than before. Things only start going downhill when McCoy’s absolutely corny solo comes in. Soaring above most all other instrumentation, the solo sounds like it just came out of a fifth generation Sonic the Hedgehog video game or some subpar anime, and immediately dampens any and all feeling the track was going for even through the slower, more emotional parts. After fading out, a small piano section comes in at the tail end that was no doubt lazily shoehorned in, making the listener long for better SUNBATHER tracks like “Irresistible.”
Most of the album functions in this way: establishing what SUNBATHER had on a number of songs, but peppering in a risk at the end that ultimately backfires. The worst of this is on the track “Baby Blue”, which sets up a dreamy sonic landscape spiraling into manic, black metal bliss only to be ruined by another solo that is too repetitive and wah-wah reliant to do any good with its presence. Deafheaven pushes this philosophy even further on the closer “Gifts for the Earth”, sacrificing what could have been a legendary ending for film student movie credits. At this point, Clarke’s vocals thankfully take more of what little spotlight they can grab. But his more prominent voice paired with traditionally uninspired indie rock riffs hopping off the Whirr and Nothing train simply makes the sounds even more harrowingly incompatible, despite the skillful metallic push and pull on previous tracks like “Luna” and “Come Back”.
While SUNBATHER displayed an unparalleled expertise in terms of fusing differing guitar styles in an amazing light versus dark chiaroscuro of sound, NEW BERMUDA hastily meshes these ingredients together, challenging any hope for the future of post-black metal.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend