Metal was my gateway drug and I’m sure it was the same for thousands of other wannabe hipsters who now sit in their student flats with their Nike windbreakers skanking to an ‘ard Wiley remix, pretending they were never an angry eleven year old kid with a fringe and a can of Relentless. The love metal and I shared for so many years began to wilt when I started getting into more ‘independent’ music in my mid-teens and the genre never really grabbed me by the balls like it used to. This was until I came across the San Francisco based Post-Metal, Blackgaze band, Deafheaven. All I can say is metal wanted me back, and with Deafheaven it found me again.
Deafheaven’s 2013 release Sunbather blew the modern metal genre out of the water. For so long metal was music’s uncool older brother who lived in its parent’s basement, but with the emergence of Deafheaven’s sophomore release metal became cool again. Deafheaven became the poster boys of ‘hipster-metal’; loved by listeners who had never heard the genre played with so much reference to atmospheric post-rock and hazy shoegaze but to the same extent hated by classic metal fans who thought the quintet had sold out the roots of true metal by watering it down with indie influences. Despite this conflict of opinion, the genre had changed and Deafheaven had done it in style.
With New Bermuda, Deafheaven have altered things once more. Long gone are the lightly coloured, hazy guitars burning harsh sunlight into your ears on a summer’s day. Everything on New Bermuda is dark, really dark. George Clarke’s banshee vocals (don’t even bother trying to listen to the lyrics) are shot forward with Daniel Tracy’s machine gun drums belting through opening track ‘Brought to the Water’ after a foreboding intro of tolling church bells and panning distortion.
This brutal onslaught pushes on through the rest of the album but it is clear that in the move from Sunbather to New Bermuda, Deafheaven have been affected by the criticism that has followed them on social media. Shoegazey fuzz guitars have now been replaced with a more condensed and sharp metal tone seen particularly on the wah fuelled screamer of a solo in ‘Baby Blue’. Despite this change being different and fresh, it detracts from the record’s diversity and character. Rather than a step forward toward more experimental forms of black metal, Deafheaven have seemed to retract into a more ‘safe’ sound with less haze and more pop-metal appeal seen with chugging guitars on ‘Luna’ and riff-like transitions seen all over the place in commercial modern metal.
Despite these qualms, New Bermuda still holds onto the same gorgeous elegance that Deafheaven continue to display. Particular moments of beauty come in the quieter moments of the record where the blast-beat drums fade out to warm, almost Slowdive-like chords drifting over post-rock melodies that soar above the mix as seen in the record’s stand-out track, ‘Come Back’.
As Deafheaven have shown, their ability to juggle contrast is astounding, with brutal, thundering black metal underlining and shuddering through the record whilst subtle shoegaze tones drown the guitars in reverb, painting a faded yet dark image for the listener to behold. Deafheaven have once more released a fantastic piece of modern metal, but like before, have done it with a different, personal flavour that sometimes falls flat but mostly strides ahead. If you’re a metalhead looking for something a little bit different or if you’re a self-proclaimed hip-kid looking to grab a slice of nostalgia then Deafheaven’s New Bermuda is exactly what you need.