The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019, #8: Deafheaven, Sunbather
MetalSucks recently polled nearly 180 prominent metal musicians and industry insiders to determine The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019! (You can read all about the voters and the methodology behind the poll here.) Over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the entire list, one entry per day.
The countdown continues today with Sunbather (Deathwish Inc.), the 2013 release from Deafheaven!
Deafheaven’s status in the metal world today is so outsized, it’s hard to believe that in the early part of the current decade they were still a fledgling band struggling to gain a foothold in the scene at large. But even if the band’s members always believed in their ability to “make it,” they surely didn’t see it happening in such spectacular — and controversial — fashion.
Deafheaven arrived with Roads to Judah in 2011 after the band signed with Converge frontman Jacob Bannon’s label, Deathwish, on the strength of their 2010 demo. While the debut full-length garnered generally positive reviews and turned some heads, it wasn’t until Sunbather arrived in 2013 that folks really started to take notice… for better or worse.
And for Deafheaven, to be perfectly clear, there has always been a whole lot of “for worse.” The band has been a lightning rod for criticism from day one, catching flack for their non-metal looks, their music’s appeal to the Pitchfork / indie rock crowd, and attracting the scarlet mark of the dreaded H-word. To this day, metal purists reject Deafheaven as un-trve scene tourists better enjoyed by the latte and kombucha set in Williamsburg. It’s true that the band’s music attracts fans from beyond metal’s walled garden, but that should be viewed as an asset, not a point of contention; aren’t we all rooting for metal to receive appreciation and recognition as a viable, complex, living, breathing, forward-thinking art form from outside our little world? History is littered with examples of metal bands that have achieved just that — Metallica, Faith No More and Mastodon, to name a few — but all those bands had metal looks in their corner to help justify their existence to diehard metalheads instead of short, coiffed hair and glasses.
But music speaks louder than any of that, and on Sunbather, with its gloriously defiant pink cover artwork — oh, that cover! way to lean in! — Deafheaven proved that their music connected with folks in a big way and that they were capable of rising above the hate. It’s not only that Deafheaven’s workaday looks made them more approachable to the 20-something everyman and everywoman, but the band’s penchant for cinematic, dynamic, expansive compositions that combined visceral black metal aggression with the melancholy melodies of shoegaze, a formula they perfected on Sunbather. Growled vocals have always been a barrier to entry for normies looking at metal from the outside, but on Sunbather Deafheaven mixed them so sublimely with the sonic palette of shoegaze that the walls came crashing down. Most remarkably, they did it in such a way that any metalhead willing to look past the band’s non-metal aesthetic could appreciate the music too.
When all is said and done, Sunbather‘s influence on music and music culture was so profound that it will undoubtedly go down in history not only as one of the best metal albums of the current decade, but one of the best albums in any genre, ever. Have another listen below and try and reflect on why you were so bitter about this album’s success as it was happening (don’t lie; you were!).
The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019:
#25: Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner (2016)
#24: Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones (2010)
#23: Pig Destroyer, Book Burner (2012)
#22: Yob, Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)
#21: The Black Dahlia Murder, Ritual (2011)
#20: Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014)
#19: At the Gates, At War with Reality (2012)
#18: Meshuggah, Koloss (2012)
#17: Gorguts, Colored Sands (2012)
#16: Between the Buried and Me, The Parallax II: Future Sequence (2012)
#15: The Ocean, Pelagial (2013)
#14: Kvelertak, Kvelertak (2010)
#13: Judas Priest, Firepower (2018)
#12: Metallica, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)
#11: Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind (2012)
#10: The Dillinger Escape Plan, One of Us Is the Killer (2013)
#9: Rivers of Nihil, Where Owls Know My Name (2018)