SXSWfm Album Review: Sunbather by Deafheaven

Written by Phillip Odom | August 1, 2013

Very few records have actually evoked an emotional response from me lately. But Deafheaven’s sophomore full length, Sunbather, will drag your heart, mind, and soul to the depths of hell and then elevate you to beautiful nirvana.

Deafheaven is a hard band to describe. With George Clarke’s haunting scream and Kerry McCoy’s layered shoegaze guitars, the general consensus is post-rock/black metal, but you truly just need to listen to understand.

Sunbather is the follow up to their debut LP, Roads to Judah, which was more raw and chaotic with more aspects of black metal. Yet, Roads seemed to lack focus, while Sunbather’s every move was specifically made in a more mature fashion. Sunbather’s song structures seem to ebb and flow more fluidly than Roads and, at the same time, keep a steady movement forward. The complexity of the album can be attributed to a guitar style similar to shoegaze and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as well as new elements like piano, acoustic guitar, and warped samples of talking. Although Clarke’s vocal style is the same as we heard in Roads, the lyrical content shows paralleled growth with the rest of the record.

Even with polished instrumental tracks like “Irresistible,” the record will still hit you with raw intensity. The beginning of “The Pecan Tree” is a brick wall of heavy guitars and blast-beat drums. AV Club described Sunbather as “carefully controlled destruction.”

I’ve heard complaints that Deafheaven is just trying to capitalize on black metal as a gimmick or that they are trying to turn the black metal genre into something it’s not. Deafheaven isn’t trying to manipulate one genre or another; on the contrary, I think they defy genre labels. Not because there is anything “new” to the sound, but because there are so many layers combined in new ways with so much depth.

I feel the best way to experience this record is to view it as an avant-garde composition. Place it on the turntable and listen to it in its entirety as a single piece. Allow yourself to get lost in Sunbather and it will transport you into a beautifully dark place that can only be described as Deafheaven.