In 2011, Deafheaven founders George Clarke and Kerry McCoy used their debut album, Roads to Judah, to establish their new band’s sound: a mix of sparkling post-rock guitars, wistful shoegaze, blast beats and, most conspicuously, Clarke’s strangled, hissing vocals, obviously influenced by screamo and black metal bands.
Then in 2013, the rest of the world caught on via the band’s second album Sunbather, which presented Clarke and McCoy’s yearning romanticism, genre-blind approach and clean-cut look through a polished lens. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive and the band’s audience grew significantly, but purists from many corners of the musical world—metal, especially—rejected the band as “false.” From out of nowhere, Deafheaven became a lightning rod.
So in 2015, Clarke and McCoy did what any good punks would do: They went harsher and heavier and darker on their third album, New Bermuda, stripping away some of the daydreamy haze of their previous works. Not that it mattered much. For most listeners (the ones who would ever encounter Deafheaven, at least) their opinion of the band had been formed. They were either brilliant stylistic synthesists or eternal poseurs. There is no in between, of course.
So on their new album Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, Deafheaven gets back to being exactly what it wants to be, and they waste no time diving way down into the deep end. Opening track “You Without End” is more or less a piano-pop song with a vaguely ‘80s vibe, adorned with a spoken word piece by Nadia Kury, decidedly non-blast drum beats and guitars that swoop and soar. Deafheaven, without question, has a distinctive sound. Here, however, they don’t sound like themselves until Clarke comes in halfway through, howling about dark tunnels and glowing orbs and love. Later, “Night People” and “Near continue the band’s explorations; the former a goth-rock duet with Chelsea Wolfe, and the latter a pillowy psych number reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Clarke sings cleanly on both; no snarls, no growls, and so on. Deafheaven should go further down this path in the future.
Back to the present, though. The most Deafheaven-y track on Ordinary is the 11-minute epic “Honeycomb,” a roaring, choppy sea of a song. Mostly, it’s a maelstrom of Clarke’s screams, kinetic guitar lines by McCoy and Shiv Mehra and dizzying rhythms by Daniel Tracy, who is, presumably, an octopus. But its hypnotizing ending, where the ring of electric guitars give way to chorus of electronic voices, leads perfectly into “Canary Yellow,” which evolves from dancing fountain of pretty guitars to heart-bursting crescendo to blackened thrash to bluesy guitar bends and an unexpected group chant in the span of 12 minutes.
“Glint” does essentially the same thing, but in 11 minutes, and it contains Clarke’s most tender verse: “Imagining us clasping hands on holiday. Imagining you growing older,” he shrieks. “Growing somehow more beautiful.” And “Worthless Animal” closes the album with Clarke in full Gollum voice. But he sounds small, somehow, as if we’re zoomed way out to marvel at the towering monument to electric guitars being constructed in real time by McCoy and Mehra. These men are brilliant composers and technicians.
Indeed, the guitars have always been Deafheaven’s bleeding edge, even when they were obscured by black metal vocals or handsome haircuts or bright pink album cover art. Deafheaven is a ambitious heavy rock band, a gathering of innovative musical minds, and one of the very best guitar bands on Earth. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is strong evidence of all three.