Black metal purists reject San Francisco’s Deafheaven in much the same way, and for many of the same reasons, they reject Brooklyn’s Liturgy: Something about those bands’ respective approaches to the genre feels like cultural tourism, as if black metal were somehow beneath them, as if they were somehow bigger than black metal. For an insular culture in which elitism is frequently considered a virtue, in which authority must be earned and dogma must be respected, slumming hipsters are a risible presence. (William Bowers wrote a fantastic piece addressing this subject for Pitchfork last year; I highly recommend you read it.) But those bands — Liturgy and Deafheaven in particular — seem to be aware of this, and rather than appeal to the referees, they challenge them, maybe even … mock them? Liturgy frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s ridiculous manifesto may not be intentionally condescending but it has that effect just the same. Deafheaven, meanwhile, are straight trolling at this point. Their new album is called Sunbather, FFS! It has a pink and white cover! It looks like a chillwave record! If black metal has an antithesis, it is chillwave. This is not a subtle reference — on their second full-length, Deafheaven are pretty flagrantly rejecting the community that has largely denied them entry since Day One.
This is a very dangerous strategy, and it can work only to the extent the music allows: If Sunbather were a bad, miscalculated, or even mediocre record, Deafheaven might have to go into WITSEC and re-emerge as an actual chillwave band. Fortunately for them (and us!), Sunbather is a spectacular record. It absolutely, passionately embraces black metal, and explores possibilities of the genre that have been opened up by such visionary masters as Agalloch and Amesoeurs: It’s expansive, melodic, blinding, textured, dynamic, and moving. It’s not traditional black metal by any means; you’d more accurately tag it blackgaze, maybe, or post-metal — but frequently, bands operating in those genres tend to create music that feels portentous or leaden, while Sunbather feels fleet, acrobatic. Haters are, by nature, going to hate — and trust me, this? This they are going to HATE. But goddamn I love it so much, and it deserves to be loved. It’s not a novelty or a hybrid; it’s a progression. Now you can download the album’s opening track, the dazzling 9-minute-plus “Dream House.” You should 100-percent do so, below, and judge for yourself.
Sunbather is out 6/11 via Deathwish, Inc.