Deafheaven have been one the most interesting metal bands of this decade. Their sound sees them marrying the ominous brutality of black metal with the heavenly textures you tend to get in shoegaze and post-rock. This was first displayed on 2011's 'Roads To Judah', but it was really 2013's 'Sunbather' that has seen them at the peak of their powers thus far, this record putting beauty to the forefront making for irresistible listening, whilst Deafheaven's aggression was underlying, but was no less effective. Their latest release, 2015's 'New Bermuda', was another excellent release, continuing their journey with their one-of-a-kind sound and that journey brings them to Leeds' Stylus tonight.
First up though, we have post-metal outfit Hundred Year Old Year Man who deliver patient, slow-burning soundscapes before bursting into sledgehammer-like riffs. They're a local band, but they don't feel like it, the way their sound manages to lay itself out across this big room and how well they suit the big stage.
Deafheaven hit the stage and instantly have you in their tight grip. Opening with 'Brought To The Water' this song's spaced-out chugs and punishing pounding gets a buzz going amongst the crowd, however what's really enticing is frontman George Clarke's command over the audience. It's surprising how majestic he is, given Deafheaven's gritty-meets-heavenly sound, but he spends the whole set doing composer actions, crawling around like Gollum, raising his mic stand and going onto the barrier, all whilst shrieking like a banshee, regardless of if he's being reinforced by blastbeats or glacial chords.
Deafheaven are certainly a weird one live. One minute people are trying to kill each other to the more traditional black metal aspects, and then the next everyone is in a gentle sway to the more post-rock/shoegaze elements. They play in all these realms to such impactful effect and there's a thread line connecting them all, whether it just be the screeching vocals amongst the ethereal guitars or heavenly souring woven in with the aggression, Deafheaven manage to take you to the furthest ends of both sides of the spectrum.
They throw in their cover of Mogwai's 'Punk Rock / Cody' which is surprisingly one of the highlights of the night, the way they bring the tranquillity of the post-rock heroes to the table, for chilling effect. There's a point during this song where Clarke is barely using his mic, having it as far away from his lips before his words don't actually reach it, making his demonic vocals feel like they're coming from a supernatural place. Even the way he's standing, leg on one amp, hunching down is hellish and makes for intense, larger than life viewing.
The real high point of this show comes in the ending triple whammy of 'Dreamhouse', 'Sunbather' and 'The Pecan Tree', three of the strongest tracks from their epitaph. 'Dreamhouse' is arguably the best song of this decade with the highest level of energy, beauty and catharsis, the way the most angelic, shinning guitars are set to turbo rhythms. This song is received like a modern classic, with the scrappiest pit of the night breaking out for it and when Clarke comes down to the barrier for the song's closing lines of an exchange, ''I'm dying', 'Is it beautiful?', 'It's like a dream', I want to dream'', it's like he's rallying the troops, the way he keeps going side to side and naturally everyone is converging him, yelling these liberating lyrics. The way, glistening tremolo picked guitars send this song out, just adds to the experience and you're gonna have bruised bones and wet eyes by the time it's over.
Likewise, for 'Sunbather', this is as good as it gets when it comes to brutality meeting serenity, the way the warm, but lively guitars feel like the sea calmly washing over you, but at the same time people are slamming to it. 'The Pecan Tree' bows this magical, yet chaotic show out fittingly with a final barrage of blastbeats and shrieks as well as a final glow of sunbeam guitars. This is song's lengthy, soothing bridge, made by patient noodling and keys makes for the perfect clam-before-the-storm before chugging stomps and harrowing lyrics give you the final dose of release.
This is about as fantastic as shows get, with every kind of vibe or emotion not just getting a look-in, but getting explored fully. There was blood, sweat and tears, heavenly atmospheres, hellish atmospheres, feelings of peace and feelings of fury. However, no matter what kind of part of the night this show found itself in, it was always captivating and is bound to stay with those present forever.
Photo credit: Kristen Cofer
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