Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Deafheaven - Sunbather CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

3.74 | 50 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Sunbather' - Deafheaven (6/10)

I remember Hunter-Hunt Hendrix (of Liturgy infamy) once defending the new wave of 'uplifting' black metal as being in keeping with black metal's doctrine of controversy and rebellion. Indeed, the pejoratively-titled scene of 'hipster black metal' has polarized audiences; some embrace the softer approach as a relatively fresh innovation, and others have lavished the 'hipster' bands with the greatest execration and disdain since Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth. Love or hate them, bands like Liturgy and San Francisco's Deafheaven are causing a stir, and it's always interesting to see people taking such equally vehement stances for and against a band. While I've always been skeptical that a style so historically rooted in darkness could (or should) be translated into feelings of hope and optimism as Deafheaven strive for on Sunbather, I've kept myself open to the possibility. Unfortunately, while Deafheaven's shoegaze-laden approach to black metal clearly intends to revive and invent the genre, I find it difficult to be particularly moved one way or the other by the most polarizing metal record of 2013. Sunbather is not an excellent album, nor is it the horrendous abomination genre-purists claim it to be. Rather, its predictable dynamics and washy atmosphere leave it somewhere in the neighborhood of 'moderately enjoyable'. In short, Deafheaven's second album is an only slightly above-average take on blackgaze that doesn't warrant the extreme opinions from either side.

In addition to the counter-intuitive emotional spin Deafheaven have placed on black metal in Sunbather, the album's cheerfully minimalistic cover makes it fairly obvious that they mean to rebel against the traditional order. Conceptualized as a reflection of the colours seen on the insides of one's eyelids when basking in the sun, it's an apt reflection of Deafheaven's emotional appeal. Operating in terms of melancholy and hopeful optimism, Sunbather gives an impression closer to that of a post-rock record than any metal I've heard this year. The guitars are laden in reverb and distortion, but the songwriting never betrays a sense of malice or anger. Conventionally beautiful harmonies are used in abundance here; particularly on some of the clean sections offered, Deafheaven will overdub guitars to create a dense, yet accessible wall of sound. Although it often feels like Deafheaven choose the most obvious sequence of notes to resolve their motifs, the compositions demonstrate a talent with knowing when to change up the pace. "The Pecan Tree" really excels with its dynamic, switching between soft and heavy sections, each contributing towards a powerful emotional payoff.

Although Sunbather feels rooted in a fairly narrow emotional context of longing and melancholy throughout, Deafheaven have a firm grasp of songwriting dynamic. In spite of that, Sunbather feels constructed out of a mere handful of tricks and ideas, to the point where the formula begins to feel predictable long before the album is over. Deafheaven are remarkably consistent throughout the album, but the everpresent euphony filtered over blastbeats and vocal shrieks feels too narrow a range to stay engaging through the album's hour length. Especially considering the roots of the genre the band is apparently trying to reinvent, Sunbather offers a nicely blended production, with textural detail aplenty to keep the atmosphere afloat. While the instrumentation is dynamic and powerful (with special merits going to Daniel Tracy for an excellent drum performance!) the vocals are painfully underwhelming. George Clarke's harsh screams are high pitched and raspy (in keeping with frostbitten traditions) but they're undermixed, lack resonance and fail to add a relevant emotional dimension to the music. Screams in 'blackgaze' music can be used plenty effectively, but Deafheaven's failure to properly integrate the vocals into their atmosphere is a sullen reminder that the effort to reinvent black metal as an 'uplifting' sound feels ultimately contrived and needlessly contrarian.

Most of all, Sunbather is a case where the hype (both good and bad) has left me disappointed. There are moments here where I come close to feeling the awe and admiration others have clearly felt, but the feelings are fleeting at best. I'm pleased that a fairly young band like Deafheaven is getting such an enthusiastic reception, but I'm simply not feeling it at much. Its uplifting, graceful beauty comes at the cost of emotional tension or challenge. The blackgaze style has potential aplenty for an emotionally evocative experience- Alcest's excellent Écailles de Lune and Lantlos' .neon come first to mind- but in the case of Sunbather, I wish I could be feeling more from it.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this DEAFHEAVEN review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives