Sunbather Album Review
Released: June 11, 2013
Genre: Black Metal, Post-Rock, Shoegaze, Post-Metal
By Jon Birondo and Michael White
“It sounds like angels in corpse paint, with their harps plugged into distortion pedals, wailing away on ’em”
– Anthony Fantano “The Needle Drop”
Sometimes, Jacob Bannon is a genius. The frontman for hardcore punk heroes Converge and founder of Deathwish Inc. Records has proven that his label is not just respectably, but bar-setting when it comes to signing great bands. In this case, Californian metal act Deafheaven return with an emotionally conscious vengeance on their sophomore effort Sunbather.
Deafheaven step it up big time from their debut in 2011, Roads to Judah, a good album that just needed better pacing. The only thing separating the two is the emotional intensity and running time. With Roads to Judah every song is a chore to listen to. The album is only four tracks but the 4 tracks run from 6 1/2 to 12 minute monsters.They were great, but in the end there wasn’t any space for air or reflection.Sunbather is a different story. Instead of barraging listeners with a bunch of musical odysseys, the band breaks up their signature post-black metal songs with more post-rock and shoegaze interludes and influences.
The opening track “Dream House” is a monstrous opus of electric guitar leads, black metal riffs, stellar drumming and great production that is an amazing testimony to how Deafheaven fuse all of these genres seamlessly, and keep even 14-minute-long tracks enthralling and engaging. The first guitar riff, a scalding yet touching tremolo passage into punishing drums, grips you by the heart, and takes you on a journey. The impassioned lyrics about addictions make the listener feel so many things at once, it’s almost overwhelming.
Singer George Clarke delivers a boiling scream that will definitely take time for the unseasoned listeners to acclimate to, but metal veterans will appreciate his vocals. Emotionally, the song is a pouring ground for feelings especially when he screams: “I’m dying/Is it blissful?/It’s like a dream/”I want to dream”Beautiful. Hauntingly Beautiful. Supposedly from drunken texts, this proves accidents sometimes give birth to amazing outcomes.
Seamlessly blended into “Dream House” is the sweet, Explosions in the Sky influenced “Irresistible”. The track features nice harmonized guitar leads and accompanied with a piano, that accents chords counting down to the next track, preparing you. The seamless transition really gives the song a feel as if it’s a “Dream House Part II”. It’s as if “Dream House” carried you out of this world, “Irresistable” would be that moment of zero gravity and weightlessness.
The next track “Sunbather” is a 10 minute monster that relentlessly barges into your ears and gives no room to breath like a hurricane, the sound becomes drenched around you as Clarke’s screams passionately and intensely before the song take a brief break just over the 2 1/2 minute mark before it starts back up again, blast beats drumming around the track before post-rock takes its toll around the end closing it off sweetly.
“Please Remember ” features a nice Radiohead-esque drone with some subdued spoken word over it ending with a nice melancholic acoustic guitar section towards the end that is quickly incorporated with post rock hooks that bring out the passion and versatility of the band as well as the stellar composition of the track.
“Vertigo”, a 14 minute monster begins with new drummer, Daniel Tracy’s triumphant beats on the drums with post-rock squeals and bass grooves carrying the momentum of the song. Then suddenly, exactly 3 1/2 minutes in the track explodes as shoegaze and black metal riffs cloud up the track, the drumming more profound for about a minute before metal riffs ring out in all the beautiful, lush chaos. Clarke’s vocals slice through as he screams passionately “Memories fly through the mask of your life shielding you from time”, again showing the beautiful, poetic lyricism on the LP.
“Windows” is an interesting track but not a track that one will consider to repeat. It has rough, dark piano chords and guitar riffs with jumpy samples of religious speeches and traffic noise. Among the noise is audio from guitarist Kerry McCoy who, during the recording of Sunbather was addicted to opiates, discusses prices with his dealer. With Deafheaven’s relentless message of want and pleasure, from the prodigal lust in “Dream House” to the dizzying and mind numbing “Vertigo”, this is the moment where personal hindrances come to light, and if dealing and confronting your darkness is a way of emotional reconciliation, then so be it. This just adds to the raw emotion that makes up Sunbather’s emotional concept. “Windows” really is a window into the dark world we all have and that’s a feeling we all share, the rich or poor, the happy or sad. Give it up to Deafheaven for acknowledging their troubles and worries.
Finally the ending track “The Pecan Tree” finishes strongly with strong vocals, passionate instrumentation and even briefly pauses with a melancholy post- rock break that prepares the listener for the ending. The only problem here is instead of ending with a long, ringing chords they lower the volume into complete silence, not finishing with a long, sustained bang.
What Deafheaven completely master on this LP is a jaw dropping blend of cathartic, triumphant distortion and blast beats which they mold into something towering in emotion and skill. The production remains lush, the composition flawless, the motion of the songs keeps moving and never meanders into something boring as it always keeps even ten minute tracks interesting. The guitars burn the ears with bright red flames but not as much to char it to ashes or have each aspect lost in the rubble, leaving your mind and ears throbbing with the emotional and abrasive vigor that Sunbather has to offer.
Overall we loved this album, great mix of genres, awesome lyricism, impressive production and another reason to keep Deafheaven under the radar. Probably one of the Top 10 albums of the year, Sunbather, presents itself as one of the least accessible albums of the year. Open up to it and you won’t regret it. One day when everyone looks back, Sunbather will be heralded as a modern classic, a beautiful symphony. It’s what Deafheaven orchestrates that makes the entire project so enthralling, engaging, triumphant and yet it’s haunting, angelic and powerful. To better put it, it’s a masterpiece and will always be a classic in the world of music.
PRETTY NEAT MUSIC
FAV TRACKS: Dream House, Irresistible, Sunbather, Please Remember, Vertigo, The Pecan Tree
LEAST FAV TRACK: Windows