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Darker shades - 90%

bkuettel, January 28th, 2016

No one expected Deafheaven to receive the abundance of acclaim following the release of Sunbather in 2013. Their swirling blend of black metal/shoegazing/what-have-you madness became one of the most unique and powerful voices in recent years. For all of the wide assortment of musical styles present within Sunbather, there remained a focused vision and accompanying soundtrack to a need for the unattainable. New Bermuda is a different beast altogether, taking their trademarked hybrid of genres to a new level of musical cacophony. Interlude tracks are done away with, each of the five epics its own maze of musical styles and instrumental varieties The increased sonic variety by Deafheaven is in order to pay tribute to their wide span of influences. These include Slayer, Sixpence None The Richer, Oasis, and others who appear throughout New Bermuda. This ultimately makes for a mess, albeit an enjoyable mess, of styles running rampant throughout.

Criticisms of Deafheaven’s lack of traditional metal aesthetics in their first two records seem to have gotten through to the band. Heavy, thrash metal guitar riffing opens the first two tracks of New Bermuda, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Slayer’s “Raining Blood.” Deafheaven have shaken up their blasting intro/clean guitar interlude/roaring, emotive crescendo formula enough to keep things fresh for record number three. “Baby Blue” is an exercise in complete disarray, with some experimentations working better than others. A beautiful dance of calming guitar melodies begin over one of the best drumming performances of the album. About halfway through, a completely out-of-place wah-wah guitar solo interrupts the mood established by the contemplative post-rock intro. More of those Slayer guitar riffs are then haphazardly thrown in, alternating with “Sunbather”-esque qualities, eventually building intensity until closing with fuzzy ambience over a phone operator voiceover(?), recalling the lamest of the Sunbather interludes. This ends up being their most schizophrenic and divisive song, but for the most part works in its charming spontaneity.

Lyrical content affirms what Deafheaven have repeated time and time again in pre-release interviews: mainstream success has not been all that it’s cracked up to be, especially for vocalist George Clarke. Contrasting with the idealistic imagery of Sunbather’s rags-to-riches fantasies, Clarke now shrieks of self-reflective apathy and melancholic surrealism. “Where has my passion gone? Has it been carried off by some lonely driver in a line of florescent light? Has it been blurred together in ribboned patterns on the night? Along the stretch of some unnamed plane, we began again,” shrieks Clarke in “Brought to the Water,” while wallowing in existential torment within “Baby Blue.” “God had sent my calamity into a deep space, from which not even in dreams could I ever imagine my escape.” Deafheaven certainly never expected their sophomore release Sunbather to be deemed the “greatest metal album of 2013” by the likes of Rolling Stone magazine, and have ultimately thrown caution to the wind and fueled New Bermuda with their most uncompromising and instinctual reaction to naysayers, and praisers, alike.

New Bermuda is indeed a massive and ever-evolving organism, managing to be even more exhausting than Sunbather while only encompassing three quarters the length. What New Bermuda lacks in consistency however, it makes up for in variety. A genre-bending fan’s dream come true, it is uncommon for any song to run longer than two minutes without drastically shifting musical styles. These experiments ultimately make for a disappointing lack of cohesion, doing away with the precocious complexities of Sunbather in favor of a shrewd nod to a musical influence with any chance the band could find. While this might give New Bermuda an ostentatious feel for some, these Easter eggs are fun moments to discover. All of these qualities add up to a veritable blur of storming rage juxtaposed with heavenly soliloquies at a moment's notice. These engaging and effective qualities make for one all-consuming experience that is as stunningly gratifying as it is unexpectedly affirming.