Album: New Bermuda
Release Date: October 2nd, 2015
“Where has my passion gone?”
These are the first words uttered by Deafheaven frontman George Clark on New Bermuda, and it’s a question which hangs heavy over the entire record. While 2013’s Sunbather explored Clark’s fantasies of living the high life, New Bermuda paints a picture of a man who has attained those dreams – only to find himself no more fulfilled, more mired in complacency than ever, and closer yet to death. Indeed, Deafheaven have blown up since the release of Sunbather. They’ve been hailed by many as visionaries, pushing the boundaries of a stale and regressive genre, much to the chagrin of metal purists. And who can blame them? One can’t help but suspect that the music press’ fawning over the San Francisco quintet has just as much to do with their conventional attractiveness and fashion sense as it does with their riffs.
Those metalheads may be pleased to find that on New Bermuda the riffs are plentiful and more brutal than ever. While there’s no shortage of the tremolo picked harmonies and post-rock walls of sound that have become the band’s trademark, those familiar compositions are punctuated by harder edged, more traditionally metal progressions. The chugging power chords that kick off “Brought to the Water” are as close as Deafheaven has ever come to straight up blackened death; the extended wah solo that functions as the centerpiece of “Baby Blue” is pure vintage Metallica, and the riff in the refrain of “Gifts for the Earth” would sound right at home on an early Mastodon record.
With their newly expanded sonic palate, Deafheaven have produced their most compelling record to date. While Sunbather washed over the listener in a homogeneous wave of texture, New Bermuda has more space to breathe, its tracks unfolding into distinct movements of tension and release, buildup and catharsis. There are points where Clark sounds as if he’s in the depths of despair, croaking and clawing, desperate to escape the abyss, only for the drums to slow, the chords to ring out, and the song to resolve into a beautiful crescendo.
While the aforementioned metalheads are likely to scoff at Deafheaven’s flippant hipsterish appropriation of their favorite subgenres, there’s something to be said for the effectiveness of the band’s genre mixing. Aggressive music has always been at its best when it embraces eclecticism. Bad Brains set the world on fire not just because they played faster and louder than their contemporaries, but because their aggression was balanced and informed by a strong background in reggae culture. Black Flag set themselves apart with Greg Ginn’s free jazz-influenced “anti-solos”. When New Bermuda’s closing track “Gifts for the Earth” transitions from Joy Division-tinged post-punk, to progressive metal riffing, to a signature blackgaze tremolo crescendo, and finally to a descending “Hey Jude” outro, not only does it showcase the band’s myriad of influences and overarching compositional ingenuity, but it ferries the listener through the gamut of emotions those sound textures evoke.
You don’t have to read the lyric sheet to know that this is an album about the disappointment that comes with attaining one’s dreams, about endless longing, about ennui and uncertainty and sex and death – you can feel it. The purists are unlikely to be swayed, but for everyone else, New Bermuda is an expertly crafted and deeply moving album with a sonic variety and compositional depth that rewards repeated listens as few other records released in the last year have.
LIKEYOUSAID Critic Score: 9.0/10
Album Review by Mike Dunn.
You can catch Deafheaven at the Wrecking Ball festival in Atlanta, Georgia from August 12th-14th along with Quicksand, Piebald, American Nightmare, Thursday, The Promise Ring, and Drive Like Jehu.