In 38 minutes, it can be proven black metal still exists in a contemporary form- and it’s in the United States. San Francisco’s Deafheaven, have released their debut, Roads to Judah, and it is nothing short of what the hype suggests.
Promoted for months by Deathwish, it seemed they had a dirty secret they weren’t willing to share until the actual release date. Recorded by Jack Shirley of Comadre fame, it’s an album that is difficult to start and stop due to the fact it only has four songs. The shortest song is about seven minutes, so you might as well listen to it in its entirety anyway.
It’s clear within the first few minutes of the opener “Violet” that this band is a conglomerate of genres. They are a mixture of pungent black metal, unexplored experimental, and tender post-hardcore. It’s like a little bit of Envy, Orchid, and Leviathan all at once. That’s why it’s too simple to say, “Deafheaven is black metal.” You can’t, especially when the vocals of George Clarke are reminiscent of that ’80s black metal, while a shoe-gazed sound precedes an aggressive guitar rhythm. Sometimes the guitars have effects that are atmospheric, yet weigh heavily on the listener. This is why it often sounds as if they are going to disappear, but they always make one last entrance with a desperate message.
“Language Games” is a chaotic mess in a great way, showing Deafheaven can pull off layers of sound within the same song, even bringing in a little post-hardcore towards the end.
By far, “Unrequited” is the best track on the album. While it’s clear by the lyrics that it is unrequited love (“I feel so worn, quartered, and torn/ Hung from the post where my brothers once sung/ Cut from the tie where my sanity binds/Stuck in Winter’s Hell, with just you in mind”), it will not leave the listener as such. Those atmospheric guitars return as the drums intensify with raw, deeply screaming vocals to a speedy explosion of sound.
Even “Tunnel of Trees” is unlike any other. It has a great beat with layers of tone until halfway through the song when suddenly, it goes quiet to just solemn outdoor noises. It creates a strange emotion as it sounds so beautiful with the darkest growls laid on top. Then church organ-oriented keys play with emphasis and emotion, as the song fades out to nothing.
If the songs are unlike most of what’s out there and the album is named Roads to Judah, it’s kind of hard to not think of biblical matters. In actuality, the title is just a reference to the busiest line of the San Francisco transit system, the “N Judah,” proving it is nothing more than tangible.
Nevertheless, Deafheaven’s debut is interesting and potentially influential. It may be that the typical black metal fan may be too staunch to listen to Roads to Judah, but that’s their loss.