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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.