The Year Of Deafheaven: Is This The Black Metal Renaissance?

black met·al

noun

a type of heavy metal music having lyrics that deal with Satan and the supernatural, often typified by common traits including fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars and blast beat drumming

trend·y

adjective

  1. very fashionable or up to date in style or influence
  2. until it gets overused and the you’re utterly sick of it

 

We’re living in a golden age of new metal, or maybe I am just in a golden age of noticing new metal. Which makes me as self-conscious as ever to be excited about new trends. I hate being that guy who says “the older stuff is so much better,” and I’m so glad I don’t have to be him right now. What bothers me instead are the genre-loyal listeners out there who despise any new developments to their genre. You may have heard them self-described as “purists.” Even the tiniest of sub-genres have their purists, and they’re all terrible people. Nowhere is this puritanical fanaticism more apparent than in metal music, most specifically within the black metal variety.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no stranger to metal music. I had my formative years like any other metal listener. I ruined Metallica pirating on Napster for everyone in 2000. Additionally, I wouldn’t be as self-deprecating as I am today if I didn’t have my season of nü metal, turned permanent self-loathing complex. Not to mention my affinity for hardcore, post-metal, and sludge that will never go away. Many subgenres of metal had been a part of my repertoire since my early teens, but black metal wasn’t one of them.

Let me paint a picture of the “pure” black metal that’s been around for roughly 25 years now. Imagine a guild of musicians that all seem to sport the same penchant for face paint (see: examples of “corpse paint” below) and black leather get ups. Not to mention the legion of faithful lackeys that attempt to do the same. There’s enough work to keep the lonely makeup and costume artist at your local high school’s drama department busy for years.

Pictured: one of the less popular student organizations at Naperville North High School

Pictured: one of the less popular student organizations at Naperville North High School

As for the aural delights of this music, open up Garageband and splice the audio together from different YouTube clips of mountain lions snarling. Next, record the sound a garbage truck makes when it stops in front your house. Loop that sound and speed it up to 200 beats per minute. Mix that down and don’t forget to crank the treble all the way up on your EQ before playback. You now have made your very first black metal song. Now throw on copious amounts of eyeliner and white foundation and take a selfie as you frown into your mirror. Lastly, gather some downed twigs from your backyard and toss them loosely into a pile on top of a black bed sheet. You now have your band logo. Don’t worry about being able to pronounce the name, it’s more kvlt¹ that way. With this press kit, you’re basically a part of the post-second wave black metal tradition and probably have a record deal in the bag.

Now do yourself a favor and don’t change the recipe at all. Do the same thing for 25 years. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt any genre mixing to reach a bigger audience. God forbid anyone shed any light on our corner of the music spectrum, lest we all scatter to other genres scenes. I just likened genre purists to cockroaches and I have no regrets about it.

Enter 2013

A modest little tech company from the Bay Area hosts their annual revealing of that thing that everyone likes. Metal dorks around the world are aghast at the horror revealed on the screen. Not once, but twice, a newly famed metal duo named Deafheaven from that same area of bays is adorned upon those holiest of devices.

Clearly some nerd in the PR department kvlted up that keynote presentation. Rumor has it, the album art on Deafheaven’s sophomore effort Sunbather was chosen simply because it matched the color of the pink iPhone 5c. No matter how it made it into the presentation, this inclusion reveals the high-water mark of black metal in the mainstream.

Yeah, I know, calm yourselves down, purists, I just used “Deafheaven,” “mainstream” and “black metal” in the same sentence. To understand why Deafheaven stirs up so much hate in the metal community, start by listening to a couple of tracks off Sunbather. Better yet, start with the album cover. It’s pink and you can somewhat clearly read the text on the front.

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THE HORROR

They’re obviously doing it wrong by black metal standards. And have you seen the band members? Not one of them has long hair. How are we supposed to know they’re in a metal band? For all we know, we’re just looking at a picture taken in front of an H&M just as a shift was getting out. A quick trip to the butthole of the internet known as the comments section on Youtube will sum up the sentiment.

comments

I dove into the cesspool so you don’t have to

Now listen to the album. The music sounds like how the album cover looks: bright. The drumming is as punishing as anything in metal music. the guitars ring furious, and vocals are as shrieking as a metal fan would anticipate. But what’s this? There’s a melody. There’s song structure. Good Satan, the album has a flow and gives you breaks in the intensity. How could this be?

To add to this confusion, the album was lauded by micro-genre proponents of screamo, post-rock, shoegaze and so on. Music review sites are showing a renewed interest in extreme metal. Outlets like Pitchfork , Spin and Stereogum all included Sunbather in their top over-all albums list for 2013. That’s their overall lists. Not their alternative lists or their metal countdowns. Deafheaven’s genre-bender of an album, turned everyone’s heads. Period.

What now?

That was June 2013, so why am I still talking about it? That’s because we’re living in a metal renaissance, my friends, and it’s only going to get more prominent. Look what’s happened in the past year. Black Sabbath got back together for a new album and a short lived tour. It sucked, but it happened. Katy Perry basically came out as a Satanist before our very eyes at the Grammys.

katyperrygrammy

I kissed Behemoth and I liked it

Future Islands gained well deserved attention for their breakout performance on Letterman. Future Islands are a synth-pop group from Baltimore that features a crooning front man who just happens to have one of the best death growls in the music industry. Viewers ate up his guttural outbursts along with his stunning hip dysplasia demonstrated on stage.

Future-Islands-gif

Deafheaven front man George Clarke also just launched his own record label All Black, which features the next successor in the line of black metal crossover acts, Black Monolith. If you want to get real deep in to sub-genres check out d-beat, of which Black Monolith is supposed to be a successor. Of course, much like Apple products, Deafheaven wasn’t the first in the game. So if you’re interested in exploring other black metal pioneers check out: Liturgy, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Altar of Plagues.

And we all know what’s next…

Hail Miley

Click for a treat

So what have we learned today? There’s a pattern emerging. A light is shining on what was otherwise kept in the dark corners of suburban basements throughout the country. If sunlight is the best antiseptic, then we’re entering a period of germ free metal. Artists are opening their minds and shedding arbitrary restrictions to the benefit of the listener.

There is a catch, however. All niche genres that wake up one morning to sudden popularity do have their peak moments and then die off into dilution. We saw it with the early 2010’s popularization of dubstep and then quick drop off into unending variations of Transformers fighting each other to a breakbeat. We also saw it in the early-to-mid-2000s indie band craze that required every new artist to register with a ‘the’ in front of their name on ASCAP. If you already hated the ilk of Deafheaven, then you’re probably hating everything that’s coming after it anyway. So you can rest assured that it will return from whence it came and you can go back to hating hipsters from a distance instead of encountering them at shows, Satan forbid. As for the rest of us, we get to enjoy a season of ingenuity and musicianship. At least until Miley Cyrus dons the corpse paint, and  I swear off the genre, making a hypocrite of myself. Until then, just like George Clarke, “I want to dream.”


1. kvlt /kəlt/ adj - of and being underground black metal

 

Metal fan or not, Deafheaven’s performances are provocative. Take a look.

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About the author /


I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about Star Wars. You can hear my overused puns on the Star Wars Loose Canon podcast. Once in a while I'm distracted enough by alternative and pop music to write about it. Otherwise it's jaded musings about metal and Apple fandom.

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  • BiggusD

    There is no timestamp here, so it is hard to figure out just how old this article is, but I’ll have a go anyways.

    It doesn’t seem like this site is the most frequented one in the world, since, you know, nobody has commented on your strange rant. That’s all good, since your statements are juvenile and uninformed. The fewer who reads this sh*t the better.

    Ok, let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I only have one question for you Deafhaven fans;

    Why do people who don’t like Black Metal insist that Deafhaven is Black Metal?

    You see, the description of Black Metal and its fans and musicians in the article above, while incorrect of course, shows anyone who attempted to read the whole thing that the writer does not like Black Metal at all (nor know what it is). It is typical of the uninformed to try to ridicule what they do not understand, and that is what mr. Oswald tries to do.

    Black Metal is a counter-genre and a counter-culture. It was created because the underground sub-culture of extreme metal became polished, shiny, squeaky-clean mainstream pop-culture towards the end of the eighties. The extreme and iconoclastic suddenly became cool and popular. The answer was of course to become even more extreme and even more iconoclastic when doing shows.

    The genre is still going strong today and is in no need of a renaissance. There was plenty of genre mixing and creativity already from the beginning, unlike what you seem to think.

    Deafhaven is not Black Metal in any way, form or manner. As you say yourself; their tonal progressions are “light” and “sunny” not dark and horrific; the walls of guitars are contemplative not disharmonic and violent; the screaming is not demonic, cold and inhuman but introspective and desperate. The few lyrics I have read are tales of lost love (as far as I can tell), and not a declaration of war on modernity, Christianity and mainstream morality.

    Why not be more open-minded and allow these things into the genre, why be so …purist!? Well, because unlike other types of music (including other kinds of metal), Black Metal represents the unacceptable. Black Metal fans identify with the exclusivity provided by a sort of music that is off-putting and inaccessible (in every way, ideally). Deafhaven is just not hard enough – “grim” enough – to be Black Metal. The mental state their music puts you in is completely different from most Black Metal, so those who like that won’t like Deafhaven.