Deafheaven Takes Over The World And Comes Home To A New Bermuda

The band plumbed their personal depths to create a breakthrough black metal album.

-By Zack Sigel

It is difficult to discuss music, especially new music, without discussing the way it makes one feel. Music may not even have any purpose other than to evoke a feeling or emotion, and attempting to compare it with other art forms often signifies only that the given critic is pretentious or imprecise. Saying perhaps more about the writer than the artist, critics of metal are especially vulnerable to this cheap dodge, and if it were asked of even the better critics why he or she enjoyed a particular album, the response will be rather focused on hooks and riffs. Much will be said of the way its textures and tones settle into your ears, and very little of why it was made in the first place. This tendency explains why so many reviewers make a show of mentioning a record’s producer, as if knowing who is turning the dials in the control room helps us make sense of the experience.

I make this distinction in light of a recent Deafheaven review that likened listening to their latest album New Bermuda to the sensation of flying, as if being actually carried off on the strength of the band’s guitar or percussion. Most revealing about this point was not that this was a frivolous way of saying you liked it, but that its author also took pains to note that this was a physical feeling, not an emotional one, and he had in fact no emotional takeaway at all. Very little if any attention was paid to the thematic content of the music, despite the generous collections of lyrics and visual culture to which Deafheaven attends, so we are never any closer to feeling the music than if one were just to put the article aside and play the new record. A brief tweet with a recommendation of the album and a link to play or purchase it would have accomplished almost the same thing, and one still would have no more context through which to process it. I will take Brandon Stosuy’s numerous tweets about crying while watching or listening to Deafheaven over four thousand words about why someone else didn’t.

When New Bermuda, then untitled, was announced last year, most of music was only just getting over the greatness of the band’s previous record. That would be Sunbather, which made it onto the best-of lists of so many traditionally metal-opposed publications that there was a sense black metal had actually produced a breakthrough album. That frightened black metal’s introverts, and it inaugurated the familiar process of openly denouncing Deafheaven as impure or fraudulent. At the time, there was a sense that what fans of black metal were worried about was that the genre as they’d known it would go away forever, perhaps as Deafheaven made it more respectable to be open and honest rather than abstract and theatrical. But when I reached George Clarke, Deafheaven’s lyricist and vocalist, by phone last week, he disagreed.

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