Heaven – 14th March 2016
The caverns of Charing Cross’s Heaven, usually reserved for the colourful nights out of London’s LGBT community, is pulling a more than convincing double duty this drizzly Monday, welcoming a horde of black metal fans through it guarded doors. Tonight’s headliners, Deafheaven, have been experiencing the second major period of critical acclaim in their short career following the release of third album New Bermuda. The popularity of this record, and the record that broke them into mainstream consciousness, Sunbather, has made them one of the more revered and reviled bands in the black metal community. Arguments as to whether their ‘blackgaze’ splice is a bastardisation of the black metal form or an evolution of it seem null at this point, as Deafheaven’s talent takes them around the world once more.
Last minute stand-ins for Denmark’s Myrkur (who had to drop out at the last minute due to health-related issues), Voices’ distinctly London-centric racket is precision nastiness. Their psychedelic riffola is fine-tuned to a fault but dripping with enough filthy vocal and gallows humour to remain engaging. There is a charming self-awareness about their repressed emotional overspill that makes their brute speed and chug endearing.
Tonight is Deafheaven’s biggest London show to date but there’s no time for standing on ceremony. What follows is a non-stop, near note-perfect run-through of 2015’s New Bermuda; lean, fast and very heavy. The show has a feeling of cohesion, of self-containment, which is both satisfying and predictable. It also means the live show inherits some of the pacing issues on New Bermuda which, while shorter than its predecessor, could have used more time in production to trim its bloated moments.
The show has a feeling of cohesion, of self-containment.
‘Brought to the Water’ and ‘Luna’ are driving examples of Deafheaven’s craft, propelled by Daniel Tracy’s relentless blast-beat barrage. George Clarke, ever the natural showman, looks more relaxed on-stage than his usual frantic, frenetic presence, delivering the throat-shredding vocal of ‘Baby Blue’ with the necessary vitriol. But ‘Come Back’ and ‘Gifts’ From The Earth fare less well live, lurching between their characteristic heavy-soft dynamic and losing momentum for an endgame that lingers on a little more than it should.
This is where incorporating material from Sunbather might have buoyed the experience; an appearance from ‘Vertigo’ or ‘Pecan Tree’ at this late stage would have been enough to restore flagging energy levels in the room at the very least. It is left instead to an encore appearance of ‘Sunbather’ and ‘Dream House’ to elevate the show, which they manage, of course, with emotional dexterity. ‘Dream House’ is still Clarke’s most moving work and the most convincing demonstration of Deafheaven’s hybrid. The musical and conceptual force of Sunbather is formidable, and they achieve more in this encore than they can muster in the entirety of New Bermuda, in this intimate environment at least.
What lacks tonight is a sense of spontaneity. Deafheaven’s music is a genuine spectacle, but the way the band choose to deliver New Bermuda is more workmanlike than the wild-eyed yet, incendiary performances fans have come to expect. And while the unblemished dazzle of Sunbather’s heavy hitters are enough to inject the show with their characteristic fausse joie and melancholy, a more considered approach to their newer material, incorporating the contrasting work of previous releases, would have more effectively accentuated the grace and dynamism of their music.