Release Date August 20, 2021
There comes a point, usually about a decade or so in a artist’s career, where a fork in the road is reached – a stick-or-twist moment, wherein lies the choice between iteration or expansion. For Deafheaven, now comfortably established with strong critical consensus and a healthy following, that time has arrived, and the choice has been made to gamble with a significant direction change.
Almost entirely abandoning the signature, black metal influenced screaming of past efforts, they have eschewed the darker shades of their musical palette in favour of explorations in lighter tones. Less complex post-rock, more dreamy shoegaze, and a cleaner, leaner approach. There is more immediacy here, as exemplified by singles like the appropriately swirling ‘Great Mass of Color’, but not to the point of dumbing down and commercially compromising their overall sonic vision.
It’s a sacrifice, for sure, as the scintillating catharsis of heavier moments past is lost, and the key dynamic of contrast between the harsh and the gentle is forsaken, except for a couple of well chosen moments. But the payoff is in a greater clarity and cohesion – the complexity is still there, just more subtly expressed, with both prog and post rock touches in abundance.
In allowing the rich atmospherics of songs like ‘Neptune Raining Diamonds’ to breathe, the softer approach pays off. Cinematic flourishes season a very modern shoegaze aesthetic, one far removed from the endless succession of mid 2010’s pretenders and their retro regurgitations, with their lazy interpretations of my bloody valentine.
Indeed, shoegaze feels like a rather ironic term for such a forward-facing sound, one embracing the possibilities afforded by the great risks of such a significant sonic shift – one as likely to be a pitfall as a platform. The problem is that many bands seem to equate ‘lightening up’ to becoming desperately accessible. This is not an accessible album, just a more approachable one, and indeed there is a confidence on display here that tells one that this journey is being undertaken sound of mind and pure of spirit. Clearly no pandering is needed, as the quality on offer is more than sufficient to impress.
In closing track ‘Mombasa’, nods are made to what was the signature Deafheaven sound, as the final transition from past to present is made. What a present it is – this may be the crowning moment of an already stellar career, and another album of the year contender.