Black metal is not a musical genre that inspires indifference. Its intensity, technicality and impenetrable darkness will either entice or repulse. The extremity of the music naturally lends itself to elitism. The metal community has its purist outposts but it seems the heavier you go the higher the barrier of entry. When Deafheaven’s Sunbather arrived in 2013 those black metal walls began to feel more permeable, delivered with sweeping post rock and the heartbreak of shoegaze.
Deafheaven have found themselves the subject of an argument ever since. Are their efforts to make palatable black metal for mainstream metal audiences sincere? Or is their prettier hybrid a dilution of a beloved bastion of extreme music? For the purists, New Bermuda offers no answers, only further fuel for their ire. For the undecided, Deafheaven have delivered one of the best heavy albums of 2015.
New Bermuda is its own beast, removed from the sentimentality of Sunbather but bound by its atmosphere. This is Deafheaven at their most urgent and direct. George Clarke’s vocals are more prominent, delivered with menace that was absent in Sunbather’s introspection. And while the shimmering waves of post rock ambience remain a pillar of their sound, the crunching riffs of ‘Brought To The Water’ and ‘Luna’ let the studded gauntlets of Bay Area Thrash punctuate the atmospherics. ‘Baby Blue’, a chorus-drenched love letter to the tones of My Bloody Valentine and Johnny Marr, provides Daniel Tracy brief respite from blastbeat duty, giving the listener more aural space than they might expect from a Deafheaven record. With the haunting ambient recordings that punctuated Sunbather largely absent, ‘Baby Blue’s lighter touch is a considered replacement; one last deep breath before ‘Come Back’ submerges us in Deafheaven’s heavy kind of hope.
New Bermuda doesn’t match the emotional intensity of Sunbather, nor does it reach for the peaks of its predecessor’s most powerful moments. And that shouldn’t be the expectation. Sunbather stands as a musical crossover where experimentation won out over convention. New Bermuda is this new noise securing its foundations in black and post metal, while pushing into unexpected territory. It’s a dynamic and surprising record; their leanest, most rewarding and most accessible release to date.