I flirted with Black Metal for a long time, but never really committed to it. First, when I was a young teenager, the Satanism and the corpse paint scared me off. I tried to like Mayhem, Marduk and Burzum, but the murder, the church burnings, the pig carcases, seemed so crass and stupid, even for a dull-witted teenager adrift in the wilds of Lincolnshire. But in amongst the occasional album, I bought from Sonic Sounds in Lincoln, (and swiftly hid in my room so my Mum didn’t think I had a sideline in worshipping Satan) there were sonic landscapes that I found enchanting – the cold other-worldliness of screeching guitars and tortured howls. If I didn’t read the liner notes it was okay. I could close my eyes and just hear the music for what it was – a howling, cold, ticket to elsewhere. But the tongue-waggling Satanism just seemed to cheapen it, musically and intellectually. Lobbing buckets of pig blood around and pretending to shag corpses was, I concluded, crap.
I kept returning to Black Metal, wanting to find myself more of the parts I loved, shorn of the stupidity. I never stuck it out. Kvlt Black metal was, alas, not mine. As Sixth Form and University wore on, and I increasingly lost myself in a cloud of pretension, post-rock was where I ended up. Not for the artistic noodlings, but for the bracing quiet, loud dynamics, and the glorious explosions contained in the greatest pieces. Later on, I picked up Emperor’s discography in a charity shop in Oxford (I’ve no idea what it came in with – I didn’t see any bullet belts or stained vests), and I could feel the similarities in the scale and ambition of their pieces, and the atmosphere they tried to evoke. If I’d have thought about it hard, I’d have realised I wanted them both locked in a rehearsal room and forced to play along with each other.
Then, in one momentous Youtube session a few years ago, I discovered Wolves in the Throne Room and Deafheaven. And, suddenly, it just made sense. This. This was what I’d been looking for. It was as if both bands sucked all the sounds I had in my head, unrealised and half-formed, and made them real. Black metal and post-rock smashed together and made a million times better. That rehearsal room had obviously existed in other people’s heads too.
My love for Wolves in the Throne Room quickly settled on one or two songs, but with Deafheaven it just kept blooming across, well, everything. Built first from the gorgeous abrasiveness of “Violet” on their (sometimes clumsy) initial album, through their second album (and masterpiece), “Sunbather” with the innumerable, kaleidoscope highs of “Dream House”, segueing into the restrained beauty of “Irresistible“ and finishing in the epic, uplifting post-rock finale of “The Pecan Tree” to the more metallic, latest offering of “New Bermuda”. Everything is amazing, a blur of trebly Black metal guitars and anguished squeals, rubbed across with dark, beautiful melodies.
I’ve never really got their label of “blackgaze”. Shoegaze bored the tits off me, and all the “great” songs never seemed to get anywhere, meandering off to a grateful death. For me, Deafheaven took the epic landscape crafting of the best black metal and post-rock and gave it an intensity and emotional immediacy neither genre ever had. I’ve tried to read the lyrics, and I can appreciate their poetic nature. But, frankly, I don’t really give a shit – the music is enough. Instead, George Clarke’s pterodactyl screams remind me of the metal bands I used to listen to when I was young, where the screams were just another instrument, a texture of the music. If I actually knew that they were saying, like with the early Black metal bands, it sometimes ruined everything.
And in completely eschewing all the Satanic ridiculousness of black metal bands, and the frippery and wankery of post-rock (I once watched the guitarist of Mono play a 60-minute set sitting cross-legged like an interviewer) Deafheaven got rid of all the baggage that each separate genre carried for me. I don’t have to listen to Deafheaven with an upside-down cross branded on my forehead, nor a pair of horn-rim spectacles and a record bag on my shoulder. I, admittedly, have to move my wife and kids out of the room before I break out the air guitar, but I couldn’t be more in love with them if I tried.
In the end, what cemented them into my heart was reading the youtube comments below those initial videos, and following the shit-fits Black metal fans had about them. Truly, Deafheaven are t-shirt-wearing hipsters. But their ability to take the best of every genre I’ve loved and blended it into something so harshly perfect is a gift. They’re definitely not black metal, nor black-gaze. They’re derivative and a pastiche at the same time as being completely unique. I’ve become that loser who watches live versions of their favourite songs in anticipation of their shows. I’ve seen the fat kid completely emotionally lose it during the live version of “Pecan Tree” repeatedly. I’m worried I might do the same. I’m a 33-year-old father of two who wears chinos – how am I going to headbang along to this?? I don’t really care. I’m as excited as I was before my first ever metal gig. If they turn up and play Sunbather out of the PA I’ll be happy. Come along and be happy too.
Check out upcoming Deafheaven shows at www.ticketweb.co.uk/deafheaven
Words: Charlie Samut