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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)