Welcome to the latest edition of Freeloader in which we review albums that you don’t have to feel like a douche for downloading for free. Today Satan Rosenbloom checks out the latest from Deafheaven.

Black metal is a music of destruction, but not as an end in itself. Just as devastating fires are necessary to maintain the evolution of a forest, the outsized musical gestures and inflammatory rhetoric of black metal are aimed at razing the world so that we may begin anew. Strange, then, that it’s only been in the last five years or so that we’ve seen black metal sprouting so many new branches. It’s a sad irony that a music so opposed to orthodoxy should be so concerned with notions of purity.

San Francisco’s Deafheaven are one of a growing legion of young American black metal bands (also including Krallice, Velnias and Liturgy) whose music captures that duality perfectly. There’s plenty of violence in the outpouring of blastbeats and guitars on their self-titled demo (briefly introduced by Vince here), but the violence feels transformative, baptismal, even comforting. Deafheaven’s arcing guitar harmonies lead to conventionally beautiful places; they even fly directly into the sun for the major key flashes of “Daedalus.” It says a lot that the acoustic instrumental “Bedrooms” feels totally at home among the beautiful carnage that surrounds it. It’s just as emotionally complete as the louder tracks.

While Deafheaven’s music shares surface characteristics with the classic black metal sound, this demo is so distanced from Mayhem and Immortal as to be another kind of music entirely. It engulfs rather than tramples, shimmers where so much black metal rattles. These descriptions alone do not make Deafheaven good or bad. But they do amount to an important shift in aesthetic values, one that makes black metal more listenable without taming its spiritual thrust. It’s a shift that has clear predecessors in Weakling, Wolves In the Throne Room and Agalloch. Do Deafheaven offer a take on this strain of black metal that the others don’t? Not really, though they do streamline the sound a bit. Do they offer that same feeling of cleansing that I get when I listen to the aforementioned? Oh, yeah.

(3.5 Horns Up)


Download Deafheaven’s demo over yonder.

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