Deafheaven – “Brought to the Water” (audio)

For all of the light that lingers in Deafheaven's music, malevolence takes on a more prominent role in "Brought to the Water".

Adrien Begrand: The highly anticipated (by some) new track by the San Francisco critical darlings gets off to such a roaring start that it feels as if they’re revisiting the raw, feral, cathartic sounds of their astounding album Roads to Judah. Soon, however, the worm turns, the guys dish out the usual critics’ catnip, try too hard to “branch out”, and lose sight of what made them so strong in the first place. As a black metal band Deafheaven were — and sometimes are — outstanding, as you hear during the searing first three minutes and 25 seconds, but then ambition gets the best of them. Guitarist Kerry McCoy, a formidable talent in his own right, heads off into arbitrary directions the rest of the way, first nicking the melody from Neil Young’s “The Loner”, then guiding the band through a mellow section that swipes from Alcest (the true innovators of the “metalgaze” sound) building to a decent Ride-goes-prog-metal climax that ends with a predictable piano coda. It’s nothing particularly imaginative, stitched together capably but far from seamless. The biggest problem, once again, is George Clarke’s screamed vocals. Harsh and extremely intense, his screams work very well when the music is equally as extreme, but when juxtaposed with more melodic, sensitive passages, they come off as borderline comical, his goblin snarl devoid of subtlety, creating an oil-and-water mix that never for a second emulsifies. Structurally inconsistent, derivative, and slipshod, and dragged farther down by a voice with zero personality, this is an frustrating failure of a song. But those critics who only listen to one “consensus” metal album every year will likely drool all over this band once again, ignorant of likeminded yet superior artists that deserve more attention. Sorry, tastemakers, but these so-called emperors have been buck naked for a few years now. [4/10]

Evan Sawdey: * Evan walks into the breakroom at the PopMatters’ office to drink from our Perrier water cooler, notices fellow writer Brice Ezell on the floor, convulsing with pleasure from the furious double-tom hits of the first movement of Deafheaven’s first new music in some time, to say nothing of the hugely melodic sweep of the second part, is also aware Brice, just like Evan, still can’t make out exactly what the band is saying until like listen #5, but still isn’t sure *

“So, you liking it, Brice?”

* Brice continues convulsing *

“You think that the piano outro is going to get a lot of critics making ‘Layla’ comparisons for the sole reason that it’s a rock song that’s over six minutes and has an outro, which, beautiful and well-placed as it is, is kind of a lazy parallel to make?

* Brice continues his spasms of involuntary good-music overload unabated, Evan walks back to his desk and adds three more lines to his tone poem about vaporwave artists past and present * [8/10]

Brice Ezell: “Brought to the Water” is a promising hint that Deafheaven did exactly what they were supposed to do following their 2013 masterstroke Sunbather: turn up the darkness. Whereas the juxtaposition of major-chord post-rock and frontman George Clarke’s piercing screamed vocals is what makes Sunbather such a stunner, that light/dark contrast can only go so far. This is particularly true because much of the territory that Deafheaven mines on that record had already been explored by their obvious progenitors, namely Alcest (see 2007’s unforgettable Souvenirs d’un autre monde). “Brought to the Water”, the first song to be unveiled from the forthcoming New Bermuda LP, still features guitarist Kerry McCoy’s penchant for lovely, somewhat un-metal chord progressions; one critic invoked a comparison to Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me”, perhaps the first time such an observation has been made in relation to a metal band.

Yet for all of the light that lingers in Deafheaven’s music, malevolence takes on a more prominent role in “Brought to the Water”. The palm-muted riff prior to the kick-in of the first verse touches on the black metal dissonance that’s often submerged in Deafheaven’s sound, and Clarke’s vocals take on a malice that’s heretofore been absent. The band hasn’t forgotten their pretty side, though; just as the song starts to fall into a fade-out — a regrettable production choice that dragged down Sunbather‘s otherwise excellent closer “The Pecan Tree” — wistful and melancholic piano chords bring things to a reflective close. Should New Bermuda follow in this darker sonic, things bode very well for Deafheaven, who have no small task in following up Sunbather. [8/10]


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