Location: San Francisco, California
Genre: Post black metal
Full Length: Sunbather (2013)
Label: Deathwish Inc.
Format: CD, streaming
Release date: June 11, 2013
Weeks ago, on the eve of the social and bacteriological outbreak caused by the COVID 19 pandemic (It sounds like an industrial metal band moniker), I was commissioned to review the 2013 Sunbather album from Californians DEAFHEAVEN. But given all that paranoia spreading on the news, I've barely caught my breath to resume editorial activities. But what the heck, Let's see… DEAFHEAVEN? I had them lightly referenced thanks to a fragment that I saw on TV with their show at the Rock al Parque festival (Bogotá / Colombia) in 2016, and nothing else. People say that everything enters through the eyes, but it did not happen to me with DEAFHEAVEN, because they lacked the scenic standard that is customary to see in bands that play Black Metal: they did not wear corpsepaint, black leather clothes with spikes, inverted crucifixes hanging on their necks and they didn't spit fire dragons either (although this does not really matter much if you put the music over image). The truth was that these guys, more than blackers, were closer to looking like Calvin Klein underwear models or like the cool guys that would be a great match to go out with your younger sister. But, I have to admit that their music is a disturbing mix, food for the ears. Those dudes brought together two sides that were in principle opposite: Black Metal’s sharp readiness of sonic chaos, with passages of acoustic softer rock, loaded with inspiring pianos and guitar arpeggios, a perfect balance of emotions such as fury and melancholy.
So I manage to sit down and take some careful listening to "Sunbather" after all. Quickly I labeled it as Avant-garde Black Metal. And before qualifiers like Post-Black Metal or BlackGaze are thrown into my face (a little more about this shortly), I will tell you that throwing here and there traditional elements of Black Metal like shriek voices, blast beats, tremolo guitars riff along with less rabid or more melodious passages that run between halftones, with the complicity of melancholic keyboards or guitars full of effects like chorus or flanger; as well as the use of instrumental or acoustic themes, or experimentation with noise, voice samples, weird movie intros, all of that, has been done in the past. It is not something that only occurred to the bands sheltered under the cloak of Post-Black Metal, back in 2013. Who remembers some bands that were already swimming against the current of their scene in the ’90s? If we located over Norway, names like ULVER, FLEURETY, VED BUENS ENDE come to light, but also in Austria groups like KOROVA or even SABAOTH from Paraguay (check those sad acoustic parts), SIGH from Japan, were ahead of PBM for about 15 years. So when I inquired a bit more about DEAFHEAVEN and saw that they were regarded as strong pillars of Post-Black Metal genre. Believe it or not, I had serious trouble digesting that label. What's the effect of the word Post, when we add it to the soap opera of sub-genre of BM? At first glance, a post is what comes after something: modernism and postmodernism, I get it, but how can something be postmodern in artistic terms of practice, if there will be always newer things and therefore postmodern?
If you ask me it is not only silly but ineffective to label something Post-BM. Although I must admit I arrive plenty of late to this trend, so I was forced to do my homework and quickly other names like ALCEST or LIFELOVER start to arise. However, if we compare those two with DEAFHEAVEN, their sound differences are very substantial. That makes me question the effectiveness of this label. Another label that also sticks to these groups is Blackgaze, a term that in my opinion generates only a little less confusion and that would be generalized thanks to its recurrent use in the music portal “rateyourmusic.com”, or so I read. According to these masterminds, all those bands use (here we go again) elements typical of the BM and Shoegaze (also known as Dream Pop), a subgenre of Rock that is characterized because its cultists, do not look at the audience but at their shoes while they’re playing live (or make that impression) Therefore musically, guitars employ acoustic tones as well as melodic riffs with reverb, flanger and chorus guitar effects. Anyway, once the label is created or popularized; there is nothing that can be done. I’ll make straight that I’m not against musical labels; I feel they’re necessary and many times they are useful for us music lovers. However, I must also highlight that when it comes to Black Metal, the road can be not only strenuous but slippery. For example sub-genres such as Depressive Black metal or Suicidal Black metal are the same, or how about Unblack Metal, also known as White Metal or Christians playing Black. You all better get serious someday.
Finally, it is time for us to focus on Sunbather, an album that since it was released in 2013, the press went nuts to the point of considering it a milestone, a complete destroyer of molds, although, as I already said, there was not much as new. The Spotlight was more a case of hipsters that haven’t heard yet some of the bands I mentioned earlier, and how to blame them. I agree that the album is good; it has real emotional, exciting and crisp songs and passages. The same track that gives its name to the album "Sunbather" is one of the best. The lyrics do not dwell into the common topics of traditional BM, with themes like Satan this, Satan this other. It seems the source is a focus on experiences typical of everyday life (is this another reason to call it PBM?). On the other hand, Sunbather is currently discontinued, somewhat surprising because this record champed the polls and the charts of the year it came out. I don't know how they haven't re-edited it, but maybe, in these times of quarantine in which concerts seem extinct, it's not a bad idea if the group considers re-pressing it to compensate the lack of income and the hunger of those who still can afford it. By the way, the original version of the album has only seven cuts, while the Japanese version has an eighth track titled "Punk Rock / Cody", take note of that too. Last but not least, something that seems to inflate the balls of the most radical blackers, is that DEAFHEAVEN usually plays in festivals that are not properly metal, sometimes being the only act of the style in the entire cartel. Even portals like Stereogum came to classify Sunbather as "Metal for people who do not like Metal", what a nonsense.
Anyway, remember that I told you not everything enters through the eyes? Once again the idea came to mind when I saw the cover of this album. It’s not a big deal but was enough to crush the mold in regard to album covers considered Black Metal. Although there is a great variety of front-covers of the genre that make use of minimalist elements, using photos of desolate landscapes, or horned Luciferian figures, or the use of monochromatic colors, Sunbather’s front cover should be interpreted more as a provocation, since it does not only carry the logo of the band but the color pink, commonly relegated to girls, dominates the entire front, along with the inscription Sun - Bat - Her, written in three lines, which also helps to mislead the listener thinking that this is actually the name of the group. Beyond that, the title of the album can refer us to the idea that Black Metal has left the shadows to walk around on a sunny day, and the truth is not bad (at all). –Jorge A. Trejos
George Clarke: Vocals
Kerry McCoy: Guitars
Daniel Tracy: Percussion
1. Dream House
4. Please Remember
7. The Pecan Tree