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Deafheaven’s have been turning heads towards their direction ever since their inception, and with their first full length, Roads to Judah it is easy to see why. Focusing on a much more post rock inspired wavelength than many other bands within the field, yet still keeping the metallic fury, Deafheaven have created a competent mixture of the more mellow varieties of post rock with blistering black metal and even the odd touches of screamo. What Roads to Judah is, is one of the purest examples of the post black metal sound I’ve come across, existing in perfect symbiosis with each individual sound.
Compared to a band like Alcest, who more often than not entered in the realm of pure shoegaze, Deafheaven focus much more on the black aspect of the post black style. Yet even with the amount of black metal, Deafheaven manage to mix things up by injecting a hefty dose of post rock into their sound. Songs follow the post rock structure of the loud-quiet dynamics, crescendos are powerful and emotional and some of the leads wouldn’t be out of place on a Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Post Royal album. Deafheaven, along with Cold Body Radiation, are one of the best bands to perfectly blend black metal with post rock. Unlike a lot of bands within the style, Deafheaven flirt with both sides of their sound equally.
Deafheaven are able to create long, emotional black metal songs that, with the exception of George Clarke’s anguished screaming, doesn’t have a drop of malice. The melodies are beautiful and highly melodic; with post rock leads constantly flowing within the black metal foundations. Songs feel fluid, constantly moving and flowing, never settling on an idea long enough for it to wear out its welcome. There’s nothing in the way of the standard verse-chorus format, instead focusing on monolithic compositions that are constantly shifting. The atmosphere on Roads to Judah is really quite excellent; it’s beautiful, yet also filled with a sense of subdued sadness. The vocals in particular are highly anguished and full of sorrow, giving the album an introspective and melancholic feel to it.
On the other hand, the mixing of the album is quite a problem with me. Drums are pushed way too forward into the mix, to the point that they almost obliterate everything underneath them. The bass is almost non existent; the guitars are low in the mix, constantly being buried by the vocals and the drums. This leaves the production of the music quite thin, and unfortunately makes it difficult to hear the melodies properly that are undoubtedly very good and well written. When a band plays music such as this, surely the production needs to work in favor of the music and not against it. A more well rounded production would have done wonders for Roads to Judah, allowing for the beautiful melodies to shine through much more.
However, despite the productions flaws, the qualities of the music are good enough to allow me too look past that one, slight problem. The music, despite being quite intense at times, especially with the drum and vocal performance, is quite light and airy. As previously mentioned, there are hardly any drops of malice or hatred within Roads to Judah. Instead, the albums opts for a soothing, almost trance like atmosphere that is very easy for the listener to get sucked into. I’d certainly recommend Roads to Judah to anyone looking for emotive, forward thinking black metal. Roads to Judah shows a lot of promise for this young band, and you’ll see their talents blossom even further on their sophomore album; Sunbather.
This is not black metal.
I hate to break the news to deafheaven's supporters, or vindicate their detractors for that matter, but in my time with Roads to Judah one of my dominating thoughts was simply: "This is not black metal." Nothing about Roads to Judah fits the genre for which it is most commonly associated with, no matter how much justification their fans may try to provide. This is not about the bands appearance, their ideology or their "kvltness": from a purely musical standpoint, any black metal that might be found here is negligible at best. The bands over-arching sounds hems much closer to the progressive sludge of Neurosis and the melodic intensity of Defeater(not to mention the shoegaze-y elements of bands like My Bloody Valentine) than anything black metal.
Which is not a bad thing: while not black metal, Roads to Judah is still a fantastic record. Haunting, technical and at times very beautiful, Roads to Judah is as fine a progressive Metal album as to be released this year. At times, like the absolutely gorgeous intro of "Violet," Roads to Judah is an emotional experience, one that does not evoke feelings of cold grimmness, but almost a hopeful tone. This in an of itself might be enough to disqualify deafheaven as a black metal band, but more likely it is the moments of obvious melodic hardcore influence, like on "Language Games," when the band enter a low-key section, complete with clean guitars and a drumroll that would do Defeater proud. The vocal attack is the closest thing to black metal here, and I actually find it a bit disappointing, considering how amazing Kerry MecCoy and George Clark were at them with Rise of Caligula, a fantastic technical deathgrind band you should check out post haste.
There is something about this shoegaze-ified, people-call-it-black-metal-for-some-reason Progressive Metal that keeps me from completely getting in to it: at times, riffs and sections run together, and I lose entire sections of songs, committing them to the Recycle Bin of my memory as soon as they enter my brain. Roads to Judah does not evoke that same feeling in me anywhere near as often as many of these other bands, which makes it such a joy to listen to. It still happens: about a 3rd of the way into "Violet" I had completely tuned the song out on pure instinct, only to be drawn back in later, but compared to say Litugry(a review is... forthcoming), deafheaven maintain a level of interest that few acts within this sub-genre can match. I should not be surprised, considering the connection to Rise of Caligula, but after reading much of the haters perspective on deafheaven, and similar bands, my expectations have been consistently skewed to the negative.
I can't really explain where the band picked up the black metal label: maybe it is self produced(in which case, I would recommend the band change their perspective), maybe others are forcing it on them. What I can say is this: Roads to Judah is a damn fine record. For what it is, this album is an emotional, musically complex and consistently interesting. For those looking for some progessive, thought provoking metal, I would recommend Roads to Judah in a flash.
originally posted at: http://curseofthegreatwhiteelephant.blogspot.com/
You know this whole shoegazing, post-rock US indie black metal scene has gone supernova when a respected hardcore or metalcore label like Deathwish Inc. opts into its spacious arches of angst. Ladies and gentlemen, you are presented with Deafheaven, the latest of bands to fuse the aesthetics of the cultural rage against a subtext of black rasping and occasional spurts of accelerated tremolo picking. These Californians certainly have that 'wall of sound' effect you hear from both the Cascadian core and the overrated New York revolutionaries (Krallice, Liturgy, etc), but sadly they seem less interesting than the former camp, if simultaneously less irritating than the latter. Yeah, Deafheaven are probably going to be lumped into that whole 'hipster' category, but who gives a shit. How is the music?
Unfortunately, there seem a number of burdens holding it back from the blissful wedding of sounds it strives towards. For one, the vocals are flat-out aggravating. If you threw them over a random deathcore or perhaps a more dour screamo act, they might fit the bill better. But here, they seem like the same, vacuous emotional pedagogues you'll hear in all the 'warmer' toned bands of this niche. In attempting to convey real pain and depth, they cough out only droning sequences which seem to have no concept for syllabic punctuation and variety. They also seem to arrive almost exclusively over the 'black metal' components, and it might have been nice to hear something more eloquent and fragile during the prettier melodic chunks, of which there are no shortages. Another downside is that, while competent and constant in their scriptures of sad, streaming chords, with an occasional texture that lights the imagination, the overwhelming majority of riffs are terribly dull and unmemorable.
Not to mention, like so many pretentious young acts, they inflate a number of their tracks to oblivion, with no hopes or aims to actually fill the watershed with sufficient sustenance. So you end up with "Violet", 12 minutes of emptiness that opens like a Sonic Youth hangover without the fine taste in tones and notation, proceeds into a faster paced, noisier alternative to Dredg's mid-career feedback fare, and then surges into the black territory. But along the way, I don't hear a single riff worth revisiting. The subtlety is expressed only through the density of the chords themselves, which is to say, not much, and all the emotional buildup that might have exploded in the song's depths is inflated once the monotonous vocals erupt. Granted, this is the worst song: "Language Games" and "Unrequited" are mildly catchier, if barking up the same tree. The closer "Tunnel of Trees", while dull during its initial onslaught, at least fades back out into the clean-space, before twisting into the most single annoying, screaming dissonant melodies anwyhere on the album.
Then what exactly is there to like here? For one, I though the drums were fulfilling enough, even if the blasted bits were less interesting. The guitarists clearly have an encyclopedic handle on the post-hardcore chords made prominent through the 80s and 90s, and they're not bad at placing them in sequence, even if there are just not enough shifts and strides. The lyrics should appeal to fans of underground emo, post-punk and indie rock bands, or the artsier metalcore or grind outfits like Converge, Trap Them, etc. They're also not nearly so arbitrary, spastic and taste chafing as those NY contemporaries I listed above. But ultimately, Road to Judas is a road to ennui, another of these incredibly hyped up records that is almost wholly tired and uninspiring.
Black metal is not the first style of music that one associates with “The San Francisco Sound”. Nonetheless a number of significant black metal acts hail from Fog City. While it’s no Oslo, San Francisco has produced a number of influential acts, ranging from the epic Weakling to the deviant Leviathan. Post black metal act Deafheaven continues this San Franciscan tradition with their impressive full length debut Roads to Judah.
Deafheaven’s sound centers on melodic riffs that simultaneously possess the moodiness of post rock and the atmosphere of black metal. Echoic production allows the riffs to resonate, creating a vast, heavenly sound. The riffs are backed by sweeping guitar leads, a wide array of percussion and raspy growls. The compositions are nonlinear, containing little in the way of a verse or chorus. However, the music develops slowly, allowing each passage to come to full fruition. For the most part the transitions occur with ease, like subtle shifts within a train of thought. However, on a few occasions the transition from purely post rock passages to post black metal passages feels forced.
While all the musicianship is stellar, Trevor Deschryver’s drumming deserves special praise. From Hellhammer style blast beats to looping tribal patterns, new sounds are constantly being brought to the table. Deschryver’s playing is crisp, precise and spirited. It stands as a lively counterpoint to the slow, contemplative guitar progressions.
The highlight of the album is the closing track, “Tunnel of Trees”. The song begins with large, watery black metal riffs that swirl around, a la Weakling’s “Dead as Dreams,” before transitioning into a stunning passage of mellow, twangy, Southern guitar with a hymnal spirit. Suddenly, the melodies burst forth into a series of effusing guitar and piano solos that burn relentlessly until all emotional resources are exhausted.
With Roads to Judah, Deafheaven has placed itself on the post-black metal map. In spite of some derivative passages (particularly the post rock passages, which can draw too directly from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky) the album displays creative songwriting and impassioned riffs. From start to finish, “Roads to Judah” is an album that summons intense and wide-ranging emotions. Chalk it up as another win for the city by the bay.
(Originally written for www.deafsparrow.com)
When I was a child, my mother always taught me to never judge anyone by the way they look or present themselves because I have no idea who that person may be until I have a conversation with him or her. As most children did, I ignored my mothers advice and have been casting judgment upon souls for the last decade or so. Now being in my mid-twenties, times have changed and I've learned those lessons that my graceful mother tried to teach me in the past. Learning the hard way of never judging is over for me, hopefully, but some bands still trick me into their little traps of confusion with presenting themselves in a way that you would never think they play more extreme music. deafheaven, yes it's spelled with a lowercase “d”, fooled me into thinking they were some indie rock project from some unknown city in some state that nobody cares about but I was wrong on all levels. deafheaven is exactly what nobody would guess, an atmospheric black metal/post-rock outfit out of San Fransisco, California that might just change the way us black metal lovers look at “outsiders”.
“Roads To Judah” can be described in only a couple words but I'll go more in-depth than that. The first word, apocalypse – as hell begins to freeze over and the dead start to walk the earth, “Roads To Judah” is what might help me survive the end of days. Letting this record blast from my iPod as I do somersaults over the walking dead, decapitating each one that thinks it can mess with me. The sounds of screeching guitar riffs slamming my brain against my skull is only motivation to reach the next spot where I can plan out my next move. The next word, undeniable – even though deafheaven was only created last year, they can't be denied access to anyones collection. “Language Games”, the second track on the record, destroys all of my negative thinking about normal, average, everyday dudes making some black metal, very well and creepy black metal at that. The last word, freedom – finally I can stop worrying about the American black metal scene. I understand that certain bands like Absu, Black Witchery & Wolves In A Throne Room pretty much have it down for us but we don't have it down to the point where other countries respect us for it, at least in my opinion. “Roads To Judah” is sort of like the air conditioning inside your house after you've been out in a hundred degree heat for half the day. It's refreshing and very welcoming, just like the cold side of the pillow when you flip it over.
So, in a world were we judge people because what they wear, how they walk, how they talk, the clothes they wear or the music they listen to, we never care to understand and get to know the person behind it all. deafheaven and “Roads To Judah” has taught me that no matter what you support, love, hate or agree with, black metal comes in many forms and you don't have to “look the part” to create hypnotizing yet chaotic and obscene music to bless your ears with. I know that some have been bashing black metal for year because of certain acts in the genre and you all know who you are. If any of you are reading this, check out deafheaven and give this record a chance because unlike Liturgy, these Americans give you raw black metal with no hope of ever coming back from the lake of Hell.
Originally written for: http://bloodorlove.domesticgenocide.com
Let me mention some black metal bands from different countries before I start my review. Just to name some of them, we have Gorgoroth, Mayhem, Beherit, Marduk and Watain. See what they have in common? Besides playing black metal, that is.
Spikes? Check again.
Super black clothing? Another check.
Stage names? Yet another check, even though it’s not really a necessity nowadays.
Now look at this band from America, deafheaven (yep, that’s spelled with a small “d” as far as I know), and tell me what kind of a band they are.
I remembered asking my friend about this, and judging their looks, they seem to play something close to classical or alternative rock, or maybe even punk rock. As for me, they seem to play pop punk music a la Boys Like Girls. Geez, and Metal Archives even said that they play black metal. Is this what a black metal musician supposed to look like!? Just look at them, they look no more than hipsters jumping their brains out!
“Can’t you just get to the point, La:mort!? You keep on bashing them solely based on their looks and do nothing else!” Sheesh, such impatience I smell! I know what I’m supposed to do since I’ve done this way before!
Now to the review, then. The music, as expected, isn’t anything new. Although they play something closer to post-black metal than traditional black metal, typical black metal elements are still here.
Raspy screams? Check.
Blast beats and tremolo picking? Check.
Minimalist music? Check again.
Unclean production? Check yet again.
Oh, did I say “unclean production”?! Oh, yes I did, though not in a ”kvlt” sense. What do you think the production is, as crisp as a bag of Lays!? No, this is black metal, baby, BLACK METAL. With that said, you are supposed to expect a drum-centric production, and hear blast beats. Unfortunately, after putting high-priority on the drums while on the mix, the bass became invisible, and the guitars buried with the vocals… and this became the sound of the overall music: VERY THIN.
To make up for that, the music is simply wonderful, making you feel light, like having an out-of-body experience. It isn’t like you’re usual black metal that sounds ghastly and just plain evil, it’s something that makes you feel that you’ve transcended, even though you’re just no more than a sneaky little devil. With that wonderful description said, I don’t know, really, what is the first four minutes of the album for (the ones you hear on “Violet”). It sounds nothing more than a jamming session, but at least it got the atmosphere right for the listener.
At least I’ve seen in this album that hipsters can play decent black metal. Yeah, don’t judge these guys simply because they wear V-neck shirts and all. Though not excellent to the core, this is one heck of a start for them. It’s something more than music; it’s more like a journey itself.
Written for my blog, lamortisdeath.blogspot.com
Deafheaven are a difficult band to pin down. Visually, they look like they should be playing Joy Division or Smiths covers. Sonically, they combine lacerating black metal with swaths of lilting, shoegaze-esque guitar work. They’re signed to Deathwish Inc, a label that’s known almost exclusively for putting out hardcore records. Sound confusing? Don’t worry, the sounds are what’s important here, and once you push past all the contradictions, you’ll find that Deafheaven is creating some seriously compelling (albeit tough to categorize) aggressive music with their debut album, Roads to Judah.
Scratching the surface, you can trace Deafheaven’s lineage back to the aforementioned Weakling, just as you can with several other upstart US quasi-black metal acts, namely Krallice, and unfortunately, Liturgy. But as far as I can tell, this is the only parallel you’ll find between Deafheaven and the NYC black metal practitioners. You see, unlike Krallice or Liturgy, Deafheaven write songs that actively engage the listener and draw you into their sonic realm. The songs on Roads to Judah are not pretentious museum pieces or college theses masquerading as black metal, no, this is genuinely emotional music that commands your attention. It’s dynamic, painstakingly crafted music, and black metal is just the jumping-off point; even the most violent portions of Roads to Judah possess an ethereal, shimmering quality that’s about a million miles away from the unrelenting grimness of traditional BM. There are just as many passages on this album that sound like they could’ve been lifted directly from Loveless as there are moments that invoke Dead as Dreams. I realize that I’ve been highly critical of bands combining black metal and shoegaze in the past, but this is because so few bands have been able to do so in a way that I find compelling. Deafheaven is one of those few.
But why Deafheaven? The answer is simple. Good ideas. Deafheaven has lots of them, enough to justify stretching songs out past the nine minute mark without ever getting tedious. They do this by letting up on the gas and allowing the corrosive black metal elements to recede so that the aforementioned shoegaze and even some rock and post hardcore influences can take the driver’s seat. The transitions are fluid and a spacious production scheme allows the songs to open up and breathe. I’ve also heard the term “screamo” being thrown around in discussions of this band, but since I don’t know what the hell screamo is, I’m completely unqualified to comment. Whatever exotic ingredients Deafheaven are bringing to the table and throwing into the stew-pot along with black metal, they’re doing it right, and doing it better than just about any other band they’re currently being mentioned in the same breath as.
Is it “true” black metal? Does it matter? When the music is this absorbing, things like genres and labels are secondary, an attempt to put things in neat, clean little boxes that results in utter frustration every time a band as confounding as Deafheaven comes down the pipeline. As I noted at the beginning of this review, the music found on Roads to Judah is difficult to categorize, and I have a feeling the members of Deafheaven wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s an exhilarating and adventurous listen, but it’s also soothing and caustic and beautiful and fucking ugly. You simply cannot ask for much more than that from a band’s debut.
Originally written for http://thatshowkidsdie.com
Hipsters have really been getting into black metal these days. I'm not quite sure what the draw is for them, but whatever it may be, they're finding their way into the more forward-thinking side of the genre, bringing far more major chords than we're used to with them.
When you see Deafheaven's band photo on Metal Archives, with the regular-looking guys in V-necks and button-up shirts with skateboards and a Che Guevara poster in the background, your hipster alarm should go off immediately. The cover art to their first full-length, Roads to Judah, isn't helping much either, resembling as it does the art accompanying Final Fantasy VI (formerly III in the US). Nor is the last review of it I read, which called it "extremely hip". I dared it anyway, despite my past bad experiences with post-metal, because what I heard intrigued me.
The first four minutes of the album did not bode well. Gentle drumming and pretty, shimmering guitar chords. It sounds like that crap album Anathema released last year. But afterwards, things definitely start to get better. They speed up into a full-on tremolo picking assault, with extremely aggressive drumming. The vocals are entirely in a generic (but good) black metal rasp--no clean singing here. All four songs are well-composed, with the gradual evolution, subtlety, and balance appropriate to post-metal. It's aggressive as hell, 90% of the time, but it still manages to sound pretty, like some kind of delicate flower filled with deadly poison. It gives the music a morose but still angry emotional texture. The drumming is far more engaging than most post-black metal tends to be. It's aggressive even more often than the guitar, with plenty of fills and a wide variety of blasts.
There are some downsides of course. Honestly you won't notice the bass most of the time, and since the guitars stay in the higher range there's very little heaviness to be found. The middle two songs are excellent, but the beginning of the opener and most of the closer sound like hipster bullshit, right up through the piano outro.
People you don't normally think of as metalheads can bring new blood to the genre. If a hipster is anything like the guys in Deafheaven--regular guys who want to try out some forward-thinking black metal--I'll welcome them to the fold.
adapted from an article comparing and contrasting the album to Liturgy's Aesthetica (you can read the full post at http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/2011/05/roads-to-judah-v-aesthetica.html
One of the biggest surprises of 2010 for me was definitely the first Deafheaven demo. Even 'though they really aren't the first to play this style of modern Black Metal, in my humble opinion they are the first to do it in the right manner. Of course I enjoyed Two Hunters and Black Cascade by Wolves in the Throne Room, but those were still a kind of regular Black Metal albums, just with a little atmospheric touch and some clean passages. Roads to Judah seems to bring this whole genre to a whole new level, obviously more inspired by non-Black Metal related genres like screamo and post-rock, this records basically blows a whole lot of the Black Metal releases put out nowadays to tiny little pieces.
Compared to the demo, which was released less than a year before their debut album, very few things changed. The overall production improved a little bit, which actually wasn't a necessary thing to do, because the production of the demo was already perfect for this kind of music. It's still not overproduced 'though, which is something I was afraid of when this album was announced and especially when I read it would be released by Deathwish Records, a label normally releasing only screamo, metalcore and hardcore bands.
There is one change in sound I, as a post-rock devotee, really adore, this is the introduction of more clean guitars and more complex drum patterns. On the demo these clean parts were recorded using an acoustic guitar, I have absolutely nothing against acoustic guitars (oh, how I love all those folk albums coming out these years), but acoustic guitars and metal are still a somewhat doubtful marriage, even when you're playing music like Deafheaven does. But, good for me, they seem to have dumped those acoustic guitars in a nearby trashbin, set them on fire, or threw overboard in the Atlantic (yai, subtle Black Lips hint), and continued with the in metal naturalised electric instruments.
This is not only music for the extremely hip, this is just a fantastic metal record, mainly focussing on the atmosphere most of the Black Metal records are missing nowadays. There is just one little minus, the demo was good, the album great, but after another album or two this just might get a little boring. I just hope they will keep improving their sound, and especially keep experimenting with more influences, instruments, sounds and structures.
Originally posted at: http://amplifiedstrawberry.blogspot.com/