Much ado has followed Deafheaven since their breakout album Sunbather in 2013. It’s safe to assume you all know the San Francisco band’s particular brand of post-rock influenced, shoegazey black metal by now, and it’s safe to assume you have your own strong opinions on it. It’s damn near impossible to write anything objective about them, and with their latest release Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (released this past Friday the 13th), the band continues down their provocative path of most resistance. Given the unique nature of the situation, we at the Vault decided it wouldn’t be fair to give you only one person’s opinion. That’s right, Vault Hunters. We’re back with another intercontinental triple-threat album review!
Let’s meet today’s participants. In alphabetical order:
Aaron Dexter Bray (Australia) – the main man over at Black Metal Daily, contributing scribbler and summoner of The Antipodean Flame column here at IMV
Sam Coons (Boston) – the guy behind @hereswhatihear on Instagram and contributing editor at IMV
Matthias Schmidt (Germany) – contributing editor here at IMV and wannabe music blogger under the moniker @metalsoliloquy over at Instagram.
Sam: Alright, I think it’s best to kick this review off by shamelessly stating our personal opinions on Deafheaven. Word on the street is we have at least one participant that will be throwing some salt. For me, I love these guys. Fun fact, Sunbather is the album that got me serious about metal. I was almost exclusively a punk rock guy beforehand, listening only to a handful of metal. That album was a total game changer. So that’s where I’m coming from.
Matthias: My general opinion on Deafheaven is pretty much the same as yours, the background is different, though. My first contact with the band was actually earlier this year, when I had already been listening to blackgaze for a rather long time. I had heard of the band before, of course, but for whatever reason I never actually listened to them. So for me personally, Deafheaven weren’t really a game changer or anything, but they quickly became one of my favorite bands in the genre.
Aaron: Well I guess I’m the salt thrower! Surprisingly, considering the amount my listening habits have focussed on black metal for… uhh… twenty five years? and the shit they cop in kvlt circles, I don’t actually hate these dudes. I did find some merit in Sunbather and New Bermuda. The whole major key/”hipster” black metal thing was a novelty for a while when it first poked its head out, but it’s just another progression/offshoot of an ever-expanding genre really, and I’ve no idea why people ruin their mascara over it so much. That said, and I’m sure this will endear me to a bunch of people, I find this album a largely uninspired, often dull and sometimes even an annoying mess. What do you guys think?
Matthias: For me, this album feels like the logical evolutionary step after New Bermuda. They increased the metal element on New Bermuda and now they concentrated on the bright side of things. And while everything sounds and feels brighter and more positive on here, there is still an element of melancholy both in the poetic lyrics and the music itself. This album isn’t at all a mess, in my opinion. It’s a very coherent album that evokes a feeling of love for the ordinary throughout the whole playing time, while simultaneously maintaining that element of melancholy. So far, it’s definitely one of my favorite albums of the year.
Sam: I’ll be honest, my agreeance with the both of you is kind of split 50/50. I definitely agree that this was the logical step after New Bermuda. In fact, did any of you notice how perfectly the closing track of New Bermuda flows into the opening track of OCHL? I get the feeling this truly is a continuation, and I love the lighter side of this album. I also think “Honeycomb” and “Canary Yellow” are two of the band’s best tracks to date and the melodies they crank out really represent the feel of the album as a whole. That being said, I think after the song “Near,” the album takes a very slight dip into that uninspired territory that Aaron mentioned.
Aaron: Three different viewpoints, love it. Sam, you’re right, that is a nice touch. Matthias I should clarify; if you’re talking coherency, I’m not so much talking about the lyrics, I don’t mind the deep existential poetic style at all, and it admittedly does hold up in that way for me. It’s other elements I find more aimless; like musically this time around they seem to flit between average rehashes of themselves or stuff that’s already been done far better (on, say, Alcest’s Shelter to use a hackneyed comparison) and biting off more than they can chew. Too many ideas hurled into the pot and not all of them necessary or pulled off well, I frustratingly find they so often fumble any momentum they might begin to build. One thing I do want to talk positively about though: Daniel Tracy. That dude is a joy to listen to.
Matthias: Absolutely agree on that last sentence. Daniel Tracy is fantastic on here. And, going back to your criticism of the music and songwriting, I can definitely see your point. There’s a lot going on here and sometimes it is close to being a little too much. But, I can’t help it, it works for me. I generally like it when bands throw in lots of different musical ideas and stylistic elements, as long as they know how to connect them all into a coherent package. And in my opinion, Deafheaven succeeded in doing that. I’d say that the mood and tone of the album is the element that really binds everything together here.
Sam: The mood and tone are definitely the glue here, you’re right. I think OCHL is a grower. Even within the time that we’ve been writing this review and I’ve been giving it a few extra listens, I’m starting to dislike certain songs and elements less and less. The whole package is starting to click for me.
Aaron: Understandable. I’ve had about fifteen-sixteen spins of this album so far and while it might sound like I utterly loathe the thing, that’s not entirely the case. I don’t mind some parts, but not really whole songs…except possibly “Glint.” I’d say that’s one of the strongest tracks on the album for me, where everything almost miraculously clicks into place for the whole experience. I also rate most of “Canary Yellow.” You’ve thrown your hat behind that and “Honeycomb” Sam, got any other favourites? Matthias, any particular standouts?
Matthias: It’s hard to choose, but I’d say “Honeycomb” and “Canary Yellow” are my favorite tracks on the record. I just love the way the heavier and the lighter elements flow into each other. That’s a thing Deafheaven are generally very good at, but it’s never felt as perfect to me as on these songs.
Sam: “Glint” may be one of my favorites on the album. I think it initially didn’t grab me because it wasn’t as busy as “Honeycomb” or “Canary Yellow,” but it’s still a solid track with a lot of positive melodies on it. Also, in the overall scheme of things, I think “Night People” is a really gorgeous track that has a lot to add to the ambiance of the record.
Aaron: “Glint” is definitely understated, I think that’s why I like it. Everything does exactly what it needs to; nothing more, nothing less, perfectly complementary. Which brings me to another sad-bastard negative point: in those moments where they do actually almost nail the brighter stuff they’re going for, George’s vox sound comparatively weak to me now. He’s never been the strongest, but seems like the band has risen to new heights in those moments and left him behind, leaving him more exposed than ever.
Matthias: I always liked George’s vocals. And I don’t feel like they are any weaker on this album than on their previous records. While they’re performed in a rather traditional black metal way, they’ve always had an “emo” vibe to them that fits very well with the melancholic and emotional music the band plays. On this album, I’d say they often serve as a counterbalance to the floating and bright music, which works very well, in my opinion.
Aaron: I do generally like counterbalance and contrast, but during tracks like “Worthless Animal” I find he sounds borderline ridiculous and incapable of reading the play at all. I actually sometimes found myself imagining the songs with a stronger vocalist. Speaking of: What does everyone think of Chelsea Wolfe’s contribution? To me, it’s the dictionary definition of “underutilized.” You have an incredible voice like hers come in, and then get her to basically sing along with you on a middling-to-snoozeworthy track. I mean, if your intention was to further highlight how feeble your own clean vocals are, sure…
Matthias: I personally love it. I agree, Chelsea Wolfe has an incredible and strong voice, but in my opinion, one of her strengths is the ability to express so much even in the calmer moments. “Night People” is a very melancholic and dreamy song and the vocals contribute a lot to that, in my opinion.
Sam: I’ll side with Matthias on this one. Chelsea could have easily stolen the spotlight, but I think it was smart to keep her relatively subtle. Looking at OCHL as a whole, it’s a very smooth, relaxing, almost trance-inducing experience (like every Deafheaven album to be honest), and I think putting her front and center would have taken you out of the experience. Imagine if they got Tom Cruise to play Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. You wouldn’t see Aragorn, you would just see Tom Cruise playing Aragorn. Same thing here, if that makes a shred of sense.
Matthias: Well put. I would have never thought you could compare Chelsea Wolfe to Tom Cruise in any possible context, but the analogy works 100% here.
Aaron: But I want to see Tom Cruise playing Aragorn (metaphorically speaking of course – Christ on a bike that’s an offensive analogy to work with. Well played) or you may as well just use anyone with a half-capable voice to back you up. She still clearly outshines everything else on the track, I just wish it was all stronger so she didn’t have to be held back to match it. Just my perception, though.
Sam: Well….on that note, let’s get some final thoughts and overall grades in. I think Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is more fitting of the title Sunbather than Sunbather was. I really love the overall atmosphere of the album, and while I can easily nitpick certain songs, they are just that; nitpicks. I know this album will grow on me as the year goes on, and I’m going to give it a solid A-.
Matthias: For me, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is one of the strongest album of the year contenders so far. I initially fell in love with it, and I will probably grow to love it even more in the future. I really like the atmosphere and emotional dimension of the album, but I’m also impressed by the songwriting and all the different musical ideas that went into it. It’s everything I could ask for in a new Deafheaven record. I’m going to give it a slightly higher grade than Sam and go for an A here.
Aaron: I think I’ve taken up enough space with how I feel about this one fellas, so I’ll just say: if you’re planning on a Deafheaven holiday, go sunbathing in New Bermuda instead. A generous C- from me.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is now available through ANTI- Records.