Deafheaven strike a fine balance between doe-eyed post-rock optimism and crushing black metal aggression on the sensational Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.
Deafheaven have a bit of an on-off relationship with Shoegaze, Dream-Pop and Ambient music. Their debut album Roads to Judah is roaring black metal aggression at its finest, a confrontational, frustrated record that steps in line with black metal tradition from artists like Burzum or Mayhem. This more typical debut was followed by a complete change of direction in 2013’s Sunbather, a sumptuous, neon-bathed epic of an album that forged the genre of blackgaze all by itself. This effort was quickly followed by New Bermuda, a return to a more punishing, repulsive and cacophonous breed of death metal – and we now see the band once again changing sides, reverting to Sunbather’s comfortably blistering sound on the staggering Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, an album that is as hopeful as it is punishing.
The core of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love stems from its truly inspiring singles, the winding ‘Honeycomb’ and ‘Canary Yellow’. These songs form the basis of the album, and send a clear message to listeners – that Deafheaven, more than any other band, take the ideologies of second-wave black metal, of experimentation, of defying expectation further than any other – with two worryingly listenable tracks of back-to-back perfection for the genre. The chiming end of ‘Honeycomb’ perhaps signifies a break into a more peaceful song a-la Sunbather, but the band instead push the listener headfirst into a second, equally punishing track packed with virtuosic guitar, George Clarke’s animalistic screeching and rousing group vocals towards the song’s end. The word that comes to mind when describing these songs is perhaps something like punctuation. Deafheaven have mastered the art of knowing when to hold off, to linger and to rest – and went to hammer onto the throttle harder than you ever thought possible, with bloodcurdling yowls from Clarke acting as a sonic conductor to the orchestral cacophony of guitar and drums behind him. For black metal songs, there is a healthy portion of hope served in each of these tracks, with spunky, heroic guitar leads that weave through the tracks, leaving sticky hooks and dazzling, glitzy solos in their wake.
This hopeful tone is present across the entire album, which simultaneously offers plentiful ground for sonic experimentation, such as on the blissed-out, dreamy ambience of ‘Near’ (a shoegazer highlight) or the rushing, weaving and crunching ‘Glint’ – its black metal counterpart – these songs most successfully highlighting the heads and tails of the genre fusion the band represents. The introductory track is the perfect opening for the album, too, with a crackling and grimy spoken word passage proving equally perplexing and poetic. ‘Night People’ features Chelsea Wolfe, the band stretching their sonic palate even further to incorporate her honeyed vocals and going a step further in dueting her with Clarke – singing, for a change. The experimentation here is pulled off wonderfully, with a glowering grand piano underpinning the whole experience, and colossal drumming contributing to a theatrical and grandiose feeling.
But what ties all of this album together is the divergent and glorious guitarwork of Kerry McCoy – totally unafraid of defying convention and effortlessly transitioning between styles in unexpected yet rewarding ways. His work on this album is not to be undermined, a gorgeous and lush demonstration of what both the instrument and Deafheaven as a whole are capable of. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love has its fair share of maximalist, arena-filling solos and punishing blast beats, but is also incredibly tender when it needs to be – a black metal album that dares to be careful, gentle, and thoughtful. It oscillates so rapidly between its two frames of reference within songs (such as at, say, exactly 6:00 on ‘Honeycomb’) and across the album as a whole – Deafheaven are not only able to capture emotion in the bigger picture but in the minutae, taking care in minute details like the panning of a hi-hat on ‘Worthless Animal’ or the blossoming, looping guitar on ‘Near’. It’s metal, Jim, but not as we know it.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is available now via Anti-Records.