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Deafheaven - New Bermuda (Album Review)

Thursday, 08 October 2015 Written by Huw Baines

When your every move is viewed with suspicion and each stylistic choice is considered an act of provocation, retreat is the easiest option. Deafheaven, a couple of years on from sending sections of the metal world into a frothing meltdown with ‘Sunbather’, have done quite the opposite. ‘New Bermuda’ dispenses with the shackles early on, taking a step away from post-rock and instead reconfiguring some staple metal moves. At times it soars, at others it fizzes with an almost classic rock fervour. Mainly, though, it hits like a train.

This is a sprawling album, but one that rests on immaculately executed individual parts. Kerry McCoy’s shifting influences are distilled into guitar lines that consistently surprise, from thrash workouts to slide refrains and, on Baby Blue, a wah-soaked freakout, while George Clarke’s screams are less a part of the canvas on this occasion. 

His phrasing is clearer, while various barks and growls slip closer to what might be considered ‘traditional’ by certain corners of the internet. Dan Tracy, behind the kit, is the ace up the record’s sleeve. His blastbeats are feral and unrelenting, but he provides the same weight and power to driving half-time passages and reflective outros.

Jack Shirley - back at the controls for a third time - has dispensed with the collage effect present on ‘Sunbather’, allowing greater atmospheric space for each element.

Tracy’s drums are the clear winner in this regard, coming across as a live, almost unforgiving presence, but McCoy’s compositional quirks also benefit. When the post-rock elements of ‘Sunbather’ washed in it felt like the record was cracking open to reveal new layers, but ‘New Bermuda’ is less content to wait for the opportune moment.

When it wants to bludgeon, it does so in no uncertain terms. It takes a matter of seconds for Brought To The Water to hit what appears to be full speed, only for it to pause and kick up a notch with the first of several thrash-throwback riffs.

When McCoy grabs hold of things again towards the song’s denouement, after Clarke has screeched out something approaching a hook, he utilises a searing lead and clever melodies. The ‘70s rock influence he discussed in the build up to the record’s arrival is clear as day, while the picked notes that enter pre-fade are a hulking relative of C86. It’s bold and quite brilliant.

Luna, which follows after a short piano outro, does away with any lingering experimentation quickly by unleashing one of the record’s most punishing segments first up. It’s a neat bit of pacing and reminds us that, for all the textural flourishes, this is Deafheaven showing that they are a metal band first and foremost.

It’s telling that one of McCoy’s nods to classic rock in this song - a short guitar phrase - is slammed aside by a scream from the very depths of Clarke’s gut. The point of attack changes almost constantly, making ‘New Bermuda’ a thrilling, unpredictable beast. In that sense, it’s got plenty in common with ‘Roads To Judah’, perhaps even more than its illustrious predecessor. In particular, the frantic guitar melodies that pooled at the heart of Violet, that album’s opener, are reflected back in Come Back’s edge-of-the-precipice riffing.

Deafheaven aren’t in the business of making friends. ‘New Bermuda’ will doubtless infuriate as much as ‘Sunbather’ did but, over five songs that make light work of epic running times, they have illustrated exactly why they are so exciting. Nothing is out of bounds, nothing is sacred. This is the sound of a band writing the album they wanted to hear. You’d be advised to listen.

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