Deafheaven is perhaps the most controversial band in modern American black metal. Traditionalists hate their deviation from the standard formula for a “classic” black metal album, while their fans admire their ability to combine elements of shoegaze and post-rock with a standard vocal delivery and lyrics from a black metal outfit. This can be more properly defined as “blackgaze”, or its more derogatory derivative, “hipster black metal”. Critics and fans (including myself), have raved about Deafheaven’s previous two releases. The band has also become a meme for those who despise the experimental nature of their version of black metal.
This divide within the metal culture manifested itself in a literal way at Deafheaven’s concert, which they co-headlined with Carcass, a thrash metal band from the later 1980s. When Deafheaven took the stage, it seemed as if everyone with X’s on their hands (denoting that they were under the age of 21, of course) flocked to as close to the stage as they possibly could, while the older folks stayed back.
George Clarke, Deafheaven’s vocalist and founding member, frequently and quite majestically conducted the crowd and stared intensely into what seemed to be each audience member’s eyes at least once. He took command of the stage, and engaged the crowd. Eventually, he began reaching into the first few rows (about the entirety of their fan base at this particular show) to grab the hands of the audience members who were participating. It was not entirely different from watching teenage girls at the front row of a One Direction concert, trying to grab the hands of one of their favorite celebrities.
The entire dynamic changed when Carcass performed. All of the 40+ year olds took control of the area closest to the stage, assuming their positions to most safely protect their drinks- the true veterans of the metal scene. There was no hand grabbing, nor mouthing of lyrics. Instead, some moshing and raising the iconic hand symbol for rock n’ roll into the air. The millennials retreated to the back. I can speak for all of those younger folks when I say that Carcass’ lack of genuine crowd engagement was a disappoint after seeing Deafheaven’s shockingly good command of the venue.
As for the actual music, Deafheaven’s genre-bending sound was a transcendental experience live. They showcased their ability to blast and pummel the audience as a standard black metal band might do, but it was balanced with their tendency to create massive sonic climaxes utilizing their shoegaze and post-rock influences. Most of the songs were interluded by several measures of soft ambiance, before they erupted back into the metal realm. They opened their set with the lead single off of New Bermuda (2015), “Brought to the Water”, followed by “From the Kettle to the Coil”, a stand alone single. “Dream House” and “Sunbather” followed, both from their 2013 instant classic, “Sunbather”. They concluded the show with “Unrequited”, a track from their usually forgotten debut, “Roads to Judah”. It was a pleasant surprise to get such a balanced set in terms of Deafheaven’s discography. The audience witnessed the band fluidly flow through their ever evolving sound, transitioning between pure black metal and the shoegazed laced metal that boosted them to one of the top names (whether you like their music or not) in metal today.
Written by Phillip Greene