Deafheaven is a band that optimises the phrase, “square peg for a round hole.” Across every single one of their records, the band has managed to take the sounds of shoegaze, black metal and post-rock into areas that leave even the biggest fans of those genres in awe.
But it’s their pushing of those genres that has helped the band create one of the most beautiful soundscapes of any collective this decade. This is especially true of their one-two punch of 2013’s Sunbather and 2015’s New Bermuda which found the band at a creative peak as well as the height of their popularity.
Yet just like one of their songs, the band seemed to burst out quickly and slowly fade into the ether. It’s been three years since New Burmuda but the band has now returned with Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, which finds Deafheaven sounding not a step out of place from where they left.
The time off has clearly done wonders for them in both their composition as well as lead singer George Clarke’s songwriting. Lead single, ‘Honeycomb’ highlights this well, luring the listener in with a few moments of bliss before crushing guitars and drums come in to shake you from your comfort. Clark’s guttural screams sound animalistic as ever as he yelps about his fear of love.
As the song nears its end it builds to a gorgeous section set to a twinkly emo guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on an American Football record. I love that a band can still manage to pull off that kind of genre switch even mid-song, still managing to make it feel like a complete thought instead of a grab bag of influences.
A big part of the band’s success on Ordinary… is the continued mastery of guitarist Kerry McCoy and drummer Daniel Tracy. The way they’ve shifted the usual Deafheaven formula for a song (crushing opening, light middle section, explosive finish) goes to show the band isn’t playing it safe anymore.
‘Canary Yellow’ opens with a sweet piano melody before McCoy and Tracy build their sound faster and faster until it feels like driving 100mph with the windows down, while listening to ‘Glint’ presents a different challenge altogether – trying not to be dumbfounded at how fast Tracy can play. These two have always been at the top of their game but Ordinary… sees them going that extra mile, pushing these songs just that little bit further.
And while the sound has never been better, it’s the words that accompany them that really surprise this time around. Clark has always been good at conveying a sense of dread but here he adds a layer of aged wisdom and world-weariness that gives these songs more depth.
Love is clearly on Clark’s mind here but not in the ‘head-over-heels’ way. Instead his desperate screams are for the worry and doubt that comes with it. ‘Canary Yellow’ is described as “a song about living in the memory of others” and while that might seem dark he finds that simply existing in the thoughts of another is like being loved.
But while Clark’s vocals are a highlight it’s the inclusion of other voices that leads to the albums only real downfall. At first, these extra voices are quite nice, the opener ‘You Without End’ has Nadia Kury delivering a thoughtful spoken word piece. But it’s the duet with goth songstress Chelsea Wolfe on ‘Night People’ that doesn’t work. On the surface, these two should have come together to find some inner darkness to explore but instead, the song flirts with pop in the worst way and leaves the listener feeling played.
However, in the end, Ordinary’s many highlights makes up for the minor blemish. Clark and crew have returned to the world they left scorched so many years ago, not with a lessened edge but with a new goal of building something from the ash.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is out now on ANTI-.