Initially, it might be hard to understand all the hype surrounding Deafheaven’s new album, Sunbather. The record is only seven tracks long but is nearly an hour in total length, with three songs breaking the 10-minute mark. In fact, three of the seven aren’t even full-fledged songs, more just interludes between the gargantuan epics. Then of course there is the band’s sound, which is mostly a combination of black metal, shoegaze, and post-rock, which certainly isn’t the most commercial combination of styles. However, when you listen to the opener “Dream House,” everything suddenly makes sense.
The aforementioned opener gives a great taste of what’s to come. The song combines the band’s signature screamed vocals which are muted by instrumentation that proves to be haunting, invigorating, and uplifting. The guitars soar over expertly played drums, with a warm, fuzzy bass rounding everything out. This creates a dynamic canvas for Deafheaven’s songwriting. “Dream House” swells and crescendos multiple times, but each time things are changed, allowing for new parts of a similar idea to be explored. The song is almost extended by the brief “Irresistible,” the first interlude. Things are toned down, with a pleasant piano combining with dreamy guitars. It isn’t as developed as the awesome opener but serves as a nice outro.
From there Sunbather continues on a similar pattern, mixing in one short song for every huge composition. The highlights come from the fuller, more developed moments, and the title track proves to be the best song of the album. The dynamics are similar to “Dream House,” but this song is a more energetic and intense experience. The guitar leads form a wall of sound around the screams, and the whole band hits an awesome groove with this combination after a brief rest, which is easily one of the most purely “metal” moments on the entire album.
The musicianship and songwriting are spot on, and this continues on with the rest of the album. The next major song is the 14-minute-long “Vertigo,” and it utilizes the same elements in previous tracks for success. The major difference is its heightened length, which truly lets all of Deafheaven’s ideas ferment and grow into one absolutely massive song. The only complaint really is that by the time things get to the closer “The Pecan Tree,” the style still feels very similar, and this begins to detract from the epic feeling that was achieved with more ease in the opening stages of the record.
Despite playing second fiddle to most of the album, the other interludes are mostly successful and often give a chilling context when everything takes a dark turn towards the second half. “Please Remember” begins with fuzzy loops of guitar enveloping a creepy, spoken-word sample before transitioning into a darkly beautiful mix of acoustic guitar and quiet background noodling. “Windows” proves to be even more dismal, with heavily distorted instrumentation and a throbbing piano serving as a backdrop for the audio recording of some sort of shady dealing and a man seemingly giving a fire and brimstone sermon.
Many have tried to categorize the epic, unique, and moving sound created by Deafheaven on Sunbather. But those people are really missing the overall point. The main thing to take away is that the blend of styles works very well, and the band should be commended for creating a fantastic experience that is as beautiful as it is invigorating.