Deafheaven - New Bermuda
Released October 2, 2015
By Brendan Tuytel
Growing up on the west coast, Totem Poles were always prominent symbols to me – layered greetings carved from a single log, unifying juxtaposing figures. The continuity of the grain tied together colourful animals, looming wide eyed beasts. This successfully joined contrasting aesthetics through both theme and form. Sunbather, the second album by San Francisco metal outfit Deafheaven, was similar. A thematic concept grounded in imperfection, insecurity, and imposing, impossible ambition brought together gritty vocals, soothing interludes, and cacophonic, discording guitar parts. Equal parts elegant and edgy, the album managed to remain cohesive by jarring the listener in perfect interludes, illustrating a recursion to self-doubt. With the follow up, New Bermuda, the band returns to its strong suits, but does so in what feels like independent pieces.
Aiming for a darker sound, doomy bells clang in the build up to the bursting guitars and barks of Brought to the Water. Guitarists Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra wrought rough riffs into jaunting melodies broken up by rhythmic, chugging power chords. It’s more definitively metal than most tracks on Sunbather dared to be. George Clarke’s scream is more guttural and gritty evoking feelings of dread in contrast to his previous anguished yell. The trend continues with Luna featuring an intro that wouldn’t seem out of place played by Metallica or Slayer, yet leads into layered sprinting guitars with reverb laden tremolos lining them. This is where Deafheaven soars. A looming atmosphere of dread shrouds shrieks of Clarke’s eloquent musings on adult fears.
The spacey interludes reminiscent of post rock and shoegaze are still prominent, but they can seem disjointed despite giving equal pay off. Before breaking into a cluster of blasting drums, blazing guitars and blaring vocals, an absence or empty space is established with echoing notes fading into the hollow atmosphere. While Sunbather ties together jarring concepts, New Bermuda revels in them and it allows the band to flourish in a less cinematic, but more technical way; that’s what sets New Bermuda apart.
More akin to abstract statues, the edges are jagged, bringing attention to the joints. With themes centralized in darkness – Bermuda alluding to a place of no return, no absolute future – two contrasting aesthetics are juxtaposed to emphasize the differences. It’s meticulously crafted with each separate part refined, but it is exactly that: separate parts. This results in a sacrifice of cinematic feel; however, both sides of the band’s sound are improved upon thus not much is lost.
The closing song, Gifts of the Earth, harmonizes the two in final climatic, cacophonous blow. Clarke’s piercing screeches provide dissonance to cleaner guitar strums before distorted leads break through. Abundant in beautiful bursts of noise electric with energy before an outro reminiscent of older Oasis closes out the album in the trend of dissimilarity. Previously pulverising in a devastating fashion, the albums fades out with lulling pianos and a shaker over blast beats and brutal riffs.
This is the unexpected elegance of Deafheaven. Over the course of a few minutes, the band can radically change sounds yet be irrevocably themselves. While New Bermuda may not be the record Sunbather is, it has carved out its niche as a different beast, reveling in its incongruence when the other tried to cover the seams. Previous angst and anxiety has evolved into an anarchistic anger. George Clarke closed the last album mourning ,“I am my father’s son, I am no one, I cannot love, It’s in my blood.” Though he laments the future his upbringing damned him with, Deafheaven has shown an ability to grow from the past rather than be constrained by it.