Record Reactions: Deafheaven – Sunbather
Welcome to Record Reactions, where I share my thoughts on a new release from the world of popular and independent music. Today’s record is Sunbather, by the black metal and post-rock band Deafheaven. These guys have been around since about 2010, and Sunbather is their second full-length LP.
Sunbather so far has become Deafheaven’s breakout release. Upon its release, the record got positive reviews from both Pitchfork and The Needle Drop, and drove fans of those publications to listen. And what they have heard has been universally lauded as great; this album is currently sitting on a 95/100 score on Metacritic. Why is it so great? It’s great because it rewrites the rulebook while operating within standard practices of music.
Standard characteristics of heavy music, such as long instrumental sections, heavy riffs, and screaming are found in the majority of this LP, and those aspects are handled completely competently. But where this album sets itself apart from most other metal releases in recent memory is its use of other features not usually seen with this style. After a long section of hard, aggressive screaming metal, Deafheaven might inject an easier, softer instrumental break. Sometimes they sound like the wandering guitars of Explosions in the Sky, at other times they sound like interludes to a pop song. These sections are more memorable, and more melodic. As a result, like on the title track, they’re sometimes actually catchy! You never thought you’d be thinking that about a black metal record, did you?
There are industrial production tricks, strumming acoustic guitars, shiny little grand pianos, and shoegazing instrumental lulls. It all comes together to form this ambient, drone quality to the music. And then, the band rips right back in to their old grinding style. The best moments are where these two worlds are intertwined. On closer The Pecan Tree for example, the hook line from a post-rock interlude is thrown back amidst the crunching metal, with a screamer on top, the mix creates a perfect peace of beautiful melodic hardcore music.
And on top of that, there is so much emotion. At first glance, Sunbather may sound one-note. But quite the contrary, the highs and lows that this LP takes you through are more intense than anything I’ve heard in a long time. Sunbather will lull you to sleep, wake you up with a crash, and take you on a rollercoaster. At times, the beauty and the feeling of this music is enough to make you want to cry.
I may have only heard this record because The Needle Drop reviewed it. I may have only liked it initially because he assured me that it was good. But after close inspection, everything written and said about Sunbather looks to be true. As bright as a black metal album can be, with innovation and transcendent musical quality, this record is accessible enough, and captivating enough of a release, to bring in legions of new fans to metal music from the brinks of independent rock.
Metal isn’t dying. Like every other genre in the conversation, it’s making changes, growing, evolving. And Deafheaven are at the forefront of that movement. With Sunbather, the band has issued a challenge. This is their call to the heavy metal community at large, that all of this is possible. You can indeed have more than one emotion in a record like this. You can have a hundred musical influences and still find cohesion. And amidst all this chaos, you can still find beauty.
Favorite Tracks: Sunbather, The Pecan Tree
Remember these reviews are just my opinion, and that little number up there doesn’t mean much! Have you heard this album? What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me? If you would like to let me know your opinion, you can hit me up on my email, or tweet at me @RobinCopple1. I am dying to know what you think! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the flipside! Stay tuned.
Image Credit: Deafheaven / Deathwish Inc