The San Francisco black metal vanguards, Deafheaven, received worldwide acclaim for their exceptional 2013 album, Sunbather. Vocalist George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy, who were later joined by drummer Dan Tracy, masterfully blended shoegaze, post metal, and black metal. They packaged their heavily layered and complex record into a minimalistic pink and orange album cover and in doing so, completely altered the landscape of possibility for black metal. They brought a colorful vividness to an otherwise dark and bleak style of music (albeit, that is the draw of black metal).
“A multiverse of fuchsia and violet surrenders to blackness now…”
– Brought to the Water
It would have been easy for Deafheaven to follow the same formula for their third album. Sunbather essentially lifted Clarke and McCoy out of poverty. They could have rode its vibrant waves through the next album cycle, but for musicians as talented and determined as Clarke and McCoy, taking their foot off the pedal was not an option. Sunbather saw Deafheaven grab black metal by the collar of its worn, tattered Bathory t-shirt and lift it into the brightest lights. On New Bermuda; they have taken black metal by the back of the head and forced its face deeper into its darkest expanses, drowning it in its own desolation.
“I’ve boarded myself inside. I’ve refused to exit
There is no ocean for me
There is no glamour…”
The breadth of talent and inspiration for Deafheaven is at its peak on New Bermuda. Clarke, McCoy, and Tracy are now buttressed by bassist Stephen Clark and guitarist Shiv Mehra in the recording process. There are notable stylistic odes to early thrash of Slayer as well as alt rock and pop groups such as Oasis and Sixpence None the Richer. With the inclusion of a variety of influences, it allowed all of the members of Deafheaven to stretch their creative muscles.
“I wish to be a pauper in kind eyes
To feel the gravel beneath my knees
To wake in a home”
– Baby Blue
McCoy’s added an arsenal of hellfire riffs to his repertoire of guitar glides and tremolo picking styles. This array is most apparent on “Luna”, “Come Back”, and the midway point on the album’s best track, “Baby Blue”. One can find themselves desperately trying to keep up and grasp the dizzying pace in which he races between chords and styles. That mission for the listener is made more difficult still with the addition of Clark and Mehra’s supporting bass and guitar adding layers of supplementary grit and rhythm. Daniel Tracy’s blistering blast beats hit on such an incredibly precise tempo that it would seem unfathomable to suggest he isn’t one of the best at what he does with his contributions on songs like “Come Back” and “Baby Blue”. His frenetic and tempestuous patterns on “Brought to the Water” amount to some of the best work in metal this year.
“Scrawled into the pavement, again and again
Written on the red stalls in smokey tin
On the smokey tin, it melts again and again
On the booths of the round table, again and again”
– Come Back
Vocalist George Clarke magnifies the depth of New Bermuda by penning magnificently picturesque lyrics that tell of a troubled man succumbing to monotony and dejection from what he thought would be a better life. With each song, he travels further into despondency, culminating in an imagined fatal ending on “Gifts for the Earth”. Clarke delivers his dispirited prose through caustic hisses and shrill wails, sounding far more bitter and disgusted on New Bermuda. A far cry from the colorful yearning that could be felt in his screams on Sunbather.
“Then further downward so that I can rest
Cocooned by the heat of the ocean floor
In the dark, my flesh to disintegrate into consumption for the earth”
– Gifts for the Earth
To bring the pieces into a whole, New Bermuda does not try to be Sunbather. If anything, New Bermuda distances itself just enough from it and truly shows the genius and diversity of Deafheaven. The utilization of different influences from thrash metal and alt rock for the creation of their third album allowed them to not rely so heavily on shoegaze or post-metal, and instead use those prior genres as small tokens of nostalgia. Therein lies the reason to what makes New Bermuda a masterful album. Deafheaven didn’t discard their innovative style for this album or even repackage it and sell it as a second Sunbather. They took pieces of their cutting-edge work, melded it with elements of other traditional genres of metal and rock, and created yet another unique sound that broadens the realm of possibility for those same genres that influenced them. They did it beautifully too, I might add.