Allow me a moment of indulgence if you will… As a fan of both rap music and cinema, there is no doubt that the concluding battle rap scene in the semi biographical Eminem movie 8 Mile is a fantastic piece of storytelling. For those not in the know, the skinny, poor, white trash, wannabe rapper with a skanky mom, has endured ridicule throughout the film, then in the final battle, he walks on stage and disarms his opponent by taking away all the tools they could use to insult him, ensuring that when the mic is passed, there’s nothing his critics have left to say.
So let’s be upfront about Deafheaven. On one hand they’re a dazzling combination of black metal, drawing influence from both the Norwegian and US scenes, melding them with more progressive shoegaze moments of experimentation and tenderness; Grammy nomination worthy in the contribution and advancement to the genre and lauded by press heavyweights such as Rolling Stone. Or on the other hand hipsters, not true metal, indie darlings, overhyped, poseurs, frauds, rich kids playing metal and George Clarke’s hair is too fucking nice to be real black metal.
Like it or not, the (over) reaction to their debut album, Sunbather, got a little carried away, and as the Californian’s flew with Icarus like closeness to mainstream acceptance, the reaction, to the reaction, from the elitist gatekeepers was swift and ferocious.
Ten years and four albums into their career, the echoes of this drama still dogs the band, but the reality is that Deafheaven did not invent ‘blackgaze’ and they’re not the only band experimenting with the boundaries of black metal, nor realistically, do they deserve to be hated for it as much as they are.
10 Years Gone itself comes instead of the live celebration tour with Inter Arma, Greet Death and All Your Sisters scheduled to coincide with the tenth anniversary of their self-titled Bandcamp demo this past June, but well, you know… for those of you keeping score, I’m trying not to reference the pandemic in every review I write this year, shit, I just have…
Anyway what Deafheaven have done is record their intended set as an album, a sort of live album in the studio for the streaming era if you will.
Featuring deep cuts from their back catalogue, like opener From The Kettle Onto The Coil created for Adult Swim, and Daedalus, the first song they wrote together, and both have been featured staples of their live set. And 10 Years Gone brings them up to date in terms of a slicker, punchier production allowing both the frantic death metal shuffling beats and buzzing riffs to shine as much as the elegant solo (Kettle…) and the lush indie/shoegaze tones.
a great sounding collection of their more well-known songs, with Easter egg like rewards for the loyalists and executed just about as well as anything they’ve recorded…
With just the one track from 2018s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (which is notable in itself, as that album is a perfect summary of Deafheaven’s mission statement), the songs mainly focus on the impactful Sunbather album and even throw in Language Games from their Roads To Judah debut. As such, the likes of Vertigo and Dream House get treated to the clean production values the band introduced during New Bermuda, as well as updating the arrangements to the currently played versions.
As to be expected from the band at this stage, this is a very considered collection of tunes that showcase Deafheaven’s ability to seamlessly blend savage, nuanced black metal extremities with deft and delicate guitar tones (Vertigo shows this off particularly well), providing a platform for Clarke’s feral rasps that throw up plenty of highlights. The breakdown in Baby Blue is powerful, the harmonies of Glint drip with melody and the whole set has been polished in terms of performance, and sonically to within an inch of its life.
This may be the bands greatest strength and weakness all at the same time.
Deafheaven have perfected their style of crafting these transitions from one extreme end of their spectrum to another in an almost effortless way, with almost no discernible disturbance to the listening experience. There are moments where it feels like the tracks just wash over you.
For example, when listening to Fear Factory’s Self Biased Resistor there is a noticeable jarring shift between the staccato verses into the cleanly sung chorus; with Deafheaven you can be listening to their shrieking, snarling best and then moments later, be soaring on warm, gentle tones and back again, which is what makes their ability in the genre second to none; but coupled with the near flawless production, it can make them seemingly lack the grit under the nails, of what might be considered ’trve’.
Ultimately 10 Years Gone is unlikely to win Deafheaven many new fans, it’s unlikely to change anyone’s opinion of what they are, and what they do, and nor is it really meant to. It was after all, recorded as a victory lap for a milestone reached.
However, it’s a great sounding collection of their more well-known songs, with Easter egg like rewards for the loyalists and executed just about as well as anything they’ve recorded. A decade after they first surfaced on Bandcamp to unite critics and divide the metal community, they are holding their middle finger up resolutely and celebrating sticking to their guns. Which is probably about as black metal as you can get.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden