It is not often that an artist is rejected by the very genre it operates in. You have the Nickelback‘s of the world who are mocked for the quality of their output. Then there are the FIDLAR‘s; frowned upon for their image and guise. Hell, even Kendrick Lamar is criticised for incorporating anything other than a Metro Boomin beat. Deafheaven grudgingly find themselves repeatedly lumped into the latter category.
A black metal band through and through, the California quintet’s constant desire for sonic expansion has led to a shutout by many black metal purists. George Clarke does not sing about Satan. The group does not dress like a Tim Burton funeral procession. There is no imagery of bats or pseudonyms. Just an amalgamation of the hard-to-follow tempos, shrieking vocals and a bombardment of guitars.
‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ is Deafheaven‘s first release in three years. It also marks five years and thirty-two days since the release of the landmark ‘Sunbather’. That album propelled the band into the blogospheres, making Deafheaven one of the most acclaimed metal bands of the millennium. Much like 2015’s ‘New Bermuda’, ‘OCHL’ sees Deafheaven continue as a five-piece. Consequently the sound is as charged as it is dramatic.
The first three minutes of opener ‘You Without End’ could pass as an Explosion in the Sky song. It segues from pianos to howls without stress. Actress Nadia Kury apathetically reads a short poem in the background. You do not second-guess anything. In Deafheaven standards, it is a friendly introduction. No abrasive shrieks discourage casual listeners – an increasing norm.
Lead single ‘Honeycomb’ is one of 2018’s most visceral highlights. An unsettling warb of noise heightens tension before ignition. The entrance of drums is like a wall tearing down; an army of guitars and organised chaos floods the battleground. What follows is the use of structure to increase unease. With each minute the sound progresses. The first three minutes build on faster tempos and a colossal wave of noise. Then the song reaches a breakthrough, drums reach the surface for air and the track finds a new course. Guitars fight for control as the fourth minute erupts into a straight-forward rock anthem. It is a momentous song that benefits from repeat listens.
Deafheaven‘s many critics have worn down the band in aspects. ‘…Human Love’ is their most measured, patient release. Four of the seven songs are over ten minutes long. It is also their longest at over sixty-one minutes. But it is not slow or hesitant. The length only enables them to fill it with further intensity.
The last four minutes of ‘Honeycomb’ are warm and orchestral, with chord progressions and an emphasis on release. Instantly following it is ‘Canary Yellow’, the other single off the record. Again, the track relies on segmented angst and passion to make its point. The longest track, it is also the brightest. Guitars signal a new day, a sunrise. Clarke described it as: “A song about living on in the memory of others“. Towards the end, his howl of, “I have wondered about the language of flowers / And you, elaborate mosaic, greeting me“, is one of the more evoking lyrics to be found on the record.
‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ was recorded in the 25th Street Recording studio, just like its predecessor. That is where the similarities mostly end with ‘New Bermuda’. Yet again, Deafheaven have released an album unlike anything else. ‘Glint’ is a force to be reckoned with; the brooding nature is carved into a thrilling, joyous conclusion. Clarke‘s vocals are ever-impressive but Kerry McCoy‘s guitar work is something to marvel at. The last four minutes are transcendent.
The two short cuts (short is loosely applied here) are necessary but slightly soulless in comparison. ‘Night People’ is pretty and highlights the band’s reach into shoegaze, but after the might of ‘Glint’, pales. Closer ‘Worthless Animal’ is an all-mighty clap of sound. Slower and restrained, its control is admirable. And that is where the greatness lies: the control. Trying to pin the sound down would be too much for most. It is like gas particles in a shaken soda can.
You will struggle to find a rock album as cavernous as this this year. Deafheaven prove yet again why they do not need acceptance from some purists to triumph. They are maintaining black metal’s relevance through incorporation of shoegaze and post-rock. ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ is simply the latest landmark in a career of landmarks.
‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ is out now via Anti- Records