Album: New Bermuda
Label: Anti Records
Someone had to write this review, so I stepped up. I might have the most history with Deafheaven, but I’m probably not the ideal candidate to review New Bermuda. I got off the Deafheaven train a little while ago. When Deafheaven first released Roads to Judah, I was on a huge atmoblack kick. Like huge, much more than I am now. Roads to Judah was like a combination of a few of those atmoblack albums of the time (Wolves in the Throne Room probably being the blueprint), and mixed in was Explosions in the Sky crescendos, or maybe Japan’s Mono. I enjoyed it, but it was just another atmoblack band in a sea of others. But I turned back and listened to their demo as well. If you are interested in learning why I loved Deafheaven so much at that point in time, go listen to Daedelus. This is where they demonstrated that they had some kind of vision that could take them outside of the atmoblack box that so many bands were starting to put themselves into. At the beginning of Daedelus, they come out with this riff that is just so catchy, so upbeat, so amazing, and they pair it with a tambourine. Seriously. It sounds brilliant! That song still gets me. So Deafheaven was willing to try something different. Then they released Punk Rock/Cody, a Mogwai cover, once again really solidifying that post-rock influence. I was sure that Sunbather was going to be some kind of glorious combination of the forward-thinking of Daedelus, the vicious black metal riffs, and the beautiful post-rock moments. And it was; at least, I think it was. But it didn’t sound good to me. In fact, after listening to the album ad nauseum, I decided I hated it. The production sounded off, their riffs were too happy, even the black metal ones, and it was full of too much crap. All those filler tunes, the bland moments. Yes, I was ready to get off the Deafheaven train.
However, Deafheaven released another single after Sunbather, the pretty great From the Kettle unto the Coil, and I agreed to see them live, because of that song and Daedelus. And to be honest, they sound great live. Even Sunbather songs sound great live. So I was genuinely excited when New Bermuda was announced, and I really wanted it to be good. But here is when the heartbreak sets in.
So, New Bermuda is a collection of five songs, eight to ten minutes per song. Long songs, no silly interludes, just the music. Cool, good. But that doesn’t seem to have helped Deafheaven write better songs, because they just need to be cutting edge and different. They don’t want to just sound like any other band. They’re Deafheaven! They need to do something different. So when the opening song, Brought to the Water, starts with a blistering black metal sound, and the vocals come in and really nail it, and everything is going really well, just after three minutes into the song, they have to go and toss in one of the stupidest riffs I’ve heard. Seriously! That riff is ridiculous! Whoever told them that that riff sounded good was being a yes man. Right after that riff, then do another one in a similar style, but it’s halfway decent. It’s not stupid. But it’s too late, the whole song has been derailed by that riff. Not only has the pacing been completely demolished, but the tone of the song is in tatters. Is this a vicious black metal song or a song-along with the kids? And they continue to do this. What I want to describe as “getting in their own way”. Because Deafheaven has some good moments on New Bermuda. The beginning of Brought to the Water, most of Luna, the beginning of Come Home, and the tambourine on Gifts for the Earth (too little too late, guys). But they manage to ruin all of those good moments by sticking in some inane, ridiculous, stupid riff, that not only ruins the feel of the song, but it ruins the pacing. Pacing is so important, especially in black metal.
Perhaps the song that I dislike the most is Baby Blue. It starts so bland and uninteresting, and only gets worse from there. It’s three minutes of nothing, until the song finally gets started. I said there were no interludes on this album, but for three minutes at the beginning of Baby Blue, they do nothing. And then this awful solo with the, what, the wah-wah? It’s so terrible. Listen, Kerry, you are not Slash or Jimi Page. Not only that, but the solo has no place on this song. It doesn’t fit at all, and it once again ruins the pacing. And to follow it up, then have to do this boring, “revving up” guitar to get to the next black metal section. Baby Blue ends how it began: uninteresting. Part of the magic of black metal, and especially atmoblack, is that it has this atmosphere that is undeniable. It drenches you in this emotion and puts you in such an interesting place. But Deafheaven cannot keep their atmosphere, because they keep on derailing their songs with something either bland or stupid.
To say some good things: the drumming is really well done. Very interesting drumming, even when the rest of the band is flubbing all over the place. But guess what? The drummer is totally new to this album, so is the bassist. George and Kerry can’t keep a consistent backing band. That probably speaks volumes about working with them. Another good thing about this album is George. He does sound great, he’s really been working on his vocal tone and it sounds much better than Sunbather. But good vocals and drums do not carry a black metal album. A black metal album is carried by its guitar and its atmosphere. The guitars are sometimes good, but there is too much silliness mixed in, where Kerry tries to do something different and ends up failing. It should be alarming that a band as popular as Deafheaven does not have the ability to hear what sounds good and what sounds bad. They are throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, and it really drags down the album. Overall, it’s a disappointment from Deafheaven. Someone needs to rein these kids in and explain to them that they are not god’s gift to the world of music, deflate them a bit, so they go back to being really careful about what they record.
Check ’em out here: http://deafheavens.bandcamp.com/