Deafheaven - Sunbather (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Sunbather (2013)

Deathwish Inc.

In the early 1990s, a small group of Norwegian bands more or less shaped what black metal would become, providing the soundtrack for wandering around in frost-bitten Scandinavian forests, burning down churches, murdering and eating one another. Two decades later, Deafheaven's Sunbather is the soundtrack to wandering around an American city in a heat wave, letting the sound wash over you. While the influence of bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem are readily apparent, Sunbather's bright pink album art brings to mind My Bloody Valentine, with whom the group also have a healthy infatuation. This is music without boundaries; Deafheaven will go anywhere, try anything, and invariably end up being great at it.

Unlike similarly hyped "black metal" bands that they have little in common with musically or aesthetically, *cough* Liturgy *cough*, Deafheaven are actually firmly rooted in the genre and have a clear reverence for it. "Dream House" makes this clear right from the get-go as within thirty seconds of pressing play, the listener is subjected to blast beats and distorted shrieks that couldn't be any more black metal if they tried. However, over its nine-minute-plus running time, the songs shapeshifts at every opportunity, finishing up closer to Explosions in the Sky territory than the charred Scandinavian landscape where it began.

"Dream House" is immediately followed by the aptly named "Irresistible," at a mere three minutes and thirteen seconds, it is far and away the shortest piece of music in the Deafheaven catalog, and consists of simply somber piano keys and spritely brit-pop guitars, only to be followed up by the Gorgoroth-goes-shoegaze wallop of the ten-minute title track. This gives way to "Please Remember," which starts as a pure noise track with spoken word vocals that eventually collapses into an acoustic interlude, offering a respite from the chaos.

There is no other American black metal band flying at the same level as Deafheaven right now. Weakling opened the door, Xasthur pulled it open a little more and Deafheaven is blowing it off its hinges. Sunbather is sure to join the pantheon of modern classics along with Deathspell Omega's Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice and Lurker Of Challice's self-titled masterpiece. How they managed to craft what is simultaneously a brutal black metal album and a perfect summer album is beyond this reviewer, but they did. Anyone planning on releasing the best metal album of the year can go ahead and wait until 2014, because beating Sunbather won't happen.