Nothing about the band Deafheaven makes literal sense, starting with their place in the world. They are a black metal-ish band, but black metal fans either hate them or engage in constant, spirited discussions about why they don’t. Their breakout, 2013’s Sunbather, took basic notions about black metal and shoegaze from their first album Roads to Judah and airlifted them into a rarefied emotional realm where track lengths dissolved into the whole along with straightforward interpretations: George Clarke’s lyrics compressed earthbound experiences—depression, material envy, struggles for purpose— into wild, leaping abstractions about love, oceans of light, tears. This was music that yearned palpably to leap across distances, closing gaps like a firing synapse.
New Bermuda, if anything, is more overwhelming than Sunbather. The roiling peaks of that album—say, “Dreamhouse” or “The Pecan Tree”—are the resting temperature of this one. They have shaped a suite of songs into one pliable and massive 47-minute arc, one that is as easy to separate into distinct quadrants as the stream from a fire hydrant. Clarke still screams euphoniously, leaning into long vowel sounds and open tones so that phrases like “on the smokey tin it melts again and again” function as color more than as thought. (You could never discern the words without the aid of a lyric sheet, anyway.) They are a band that works best in colors, as the titles of the albums and the salmon color of Sunbather’s cover attest: On New Bermuda, they revisit an ecstatic sound world that resembles, as Clarke puts it on opening song “Brought to the Water”, “a multiverse of fuchsia and light.”
Having discovered this multiverse, New Bermuda finds them shaping it. The album is shorter and more compressed than Sunbather, and doesn’t telescope into “loud” and “quiet” sections quite as clearly. There is still a nauseous sort of beauty to their chord voicings: the lurches into minor key on “Luna” feel as heavy as their swings back into major, like the motion of a great, creaking iron gate. The second half of the “fuchsia and light” lyric is "surrenders to blackness now,” and if Deafheaven’s music at its best represents a brilliant collision of beauty and despair, the battle feels pitched at higher stakes than it did on Sunbather. Clarke’s voice is sharper and mixed lower, clawing at the smooth walls of the music like something wretched trying to escape a pit.
The lyrics suggest that this confining space might resemble the sort of manicured suburban prison that Sunbather was set inside: "There is no ocean for me. There is no glamour. Only the mirage of water ascending from the asphalt. I gaze at it from the oven of my home. Confined to a house that never remains clean,” runs a passage from “Luna”. But listening to Deafheaven, you don’t feel the particulars of this dilemma any more than you notice the pebbles of a gravel driveway from the window of an airplane. The music acts as an incinerator for any malaise you bring to it. It is a warm blur of noise, and fans of many different kinds of moody sensual guitar musics can close their eyes and place themselves inside it: If you have at any point worn a Deftones, Cure, My Bloody Valentine, or an Explosions in the Sky t-shirt, there is room for you inside here.
But Deafheaven reach further and further on this album: The drowsily sliding guitars on the long coda to “Come Back” conjure the easy warmth of Built to Spill. An organ wells up as the guitars fade, like something Ira Kaplan would do on a Yo La Tengo record. The thick palm-muted chugging on the beginning of “Luna” is reminiscent of the Slayer of Seasons of the Abyss. The undistorted downstrokes on “Gifts for the Earth” are a visitation from Joy Division, while the flagrant wah-pedal abusing guitar solo on “Baby Blue” is pure Load-era Kirk Hammett.
All of these references, which bring together many bands that wouldn’t normally have much to do with one another, points to something dreamlike and uncanny in Deafheaven’s grand sound. At a moment when guitar-centric music feels less central to the conversation, and great indie-rock bands have retreated into hardy local scenes, Deafheaven play like a beautiful, abstracted dream of guitar music’s transportive power. The year’s most jolting guitar-centered rock records have reimagined the guitar’s place in the constellation slightly—on Tame Impala’s Currents, the guitar glimmers distantly at us from beneath a glass, darkly—a distant shape moving beneath the larger, more legible shapes of the compressed drums and programmed synths. On Kurt Vile’s b’lieve i’m going down, it is part of a general out-of-time way of life, a devotion to anachronism and lived-in symbols that keeps the confusion of the outside world at bay.
Deafheaven, meanwhile, unabashedly treat the roar of electric guitars as a holy experience. But they have earned their sense of awe, and you can see audiences returning it tenfold in their live performances. The transcendence their music gazes towards has a long spiritual lineage. To wit: I pulled my earbuds out while listening to New Bermuda this morning in a store where Boston’s ”More Than A Feeling“ was playing. The transition was seamless. They were aiming at the same horizon spot, made for the moment when you begin dreaming.