Honorable Mention Part IV: Deafheaven ‘Sunbather’

deafheavenI’ve never been a fan of the screaming. Even as a child, when I was around another tot that found it necessary to scream and bark to get attention from other tots, a teacher, adult, or the like I felt that I needed to get away from this banshee in OshKosh B’gosh as quickly as possible. I’m not much for bringing attention to myself and I’m very suspicious of anyone that does just that. As I grew up I carried this belief into adulthood, and as a result music that had a singer belching blood into the microphone never appealed to me. I was always a melody and harmony man. I just didn’t get the point of the screamo movement. Sure, there were bands that I really liked that did this screaming occasionally. Faith No More’s Mike Patton made the screaming within their songs an art form. It was like performance art. One minute he was shredding his vocal chords within a song like “Caffeine”, next he was crooning like Frank Sinatra. I got that. I dug that. Even Chino Moreno’s screaming felt compelling at some points as it built more into this cathartic expression of emotion. Well, after hearing Deafheaven’s Sunbather album over the summer I’ve become a fan of the screaming. At least George Clarke’s screaming.

Someone once described this screaming as “cathartic expression of emotion“. That someone was me in the last paragraph describing Deftone’s Chino Moreno. This phrase fits Deafheaven perfectly. They’ve been described as black metal. I’ve always seen black metal as something else, but I’m no expert on the subject so I’ll let it go. Sunbather is this angst-y, full bore, yelp into the universe that is as triumphant and soul-swelling as it is menacing and guttural. “Dream House” builds into this juggernaut of a crescendo all the while singer George Clarke shreds his pipes for all the world to hear.

Hindered by sober restlessness. Submitting to the amber crutch. The theme in my aching prose. Fantasizing the sight of Manhattan;that pour of a bitter red being that escapes a thin frame. The rebirth of mutual love. The slipping on gloves to lay tenderly.

“I’m dying.”
– “Is it blissful?”
“It’s like a dream.”
– “I want to dream.”

These aren’t lyrics more than bitter memories. A conversation with someone not there, knowing an answer to stated questions is impossible. It’s a gripping song that guitarist Kerry McCoy gives such bravado and strength you can’t help but be swept up in its emotional grip. “Irresistible” is this beautiful little calm before the storm moment that carries us into the epic title track. Where most screaming seems overplayed and over melodramatic in the music I hear it in, here it feels more like a form of therapy. The music is a crystal sheen of light that those pained, jagged words travel upon.

A song like “Please Remember” makes you realize you’re not just listening to another Bay area metal band. This sort of ambient, noisy track makes you feel as if you’re listening to a work of art; not just noisy, cathartic bloodletting. It’s buzz saw eardrum ripping gives way to gentle strummed acoustic and delayed electric guitar halfway through. The screaming may put this music into the black metal category, but for my money this is some of the best post-rock I’ve heard in quite some time. Third guitarist Nick Bassett left the band to be with his main gig Whirr full time. That other Bay area band’s swirly shoegaze tendencies certainly pop up now and again on this record as well, but more in the segue tracks that act as aural portals to the next primal scream therapy session. The nearly 15 minute “Vertigo” also has moments of shoegaze grandeur in the use of e-bow’d and delayed notes of McCoy’s guitar before that song kicks into an old school metal cruncher a little past the four minute mark.

This record is such a wonderfully textural listen. Layers and layers of sonic movements, all swirling and clashing together like the waves hitting San Francisco Bay. The beauty and vastness of that area captured perfectly in these beautiful and harrowing tracks. “Windows” brings to mind Godspeed You! Black Emperor with it’s spoken word moments and conversations played over ominous drones and piano, which takes us into the finale called “The Pecan Tree”. We don’t leave this world with a whimper, but a monolithic howl to the universe. A song looking into a father/son relationship and the unfortunate similarities Clarke sees between himself and his own father.

I am my father’s son

I am no one

I cannot love

It’s in my blood

Those are the words we’re left with. Those are the words I leave you with.

9.5 out of 10


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