DIIV have had a rocky few years. The self-admittance of DIIV’s frontman Zachary Cole Smith’s to inpatient treatment for heroin addiction alongside the bitter split with former bassist Devin Perez after it had emerged he had posted anti-Semitic, racist, sexist and homophobic comments on 4Chan are straining enough to break a band apart. But not DIIV. Following the release of numerous covers, performing songs by Elliot Smith and My Bloody Valentine amongst others, and a brief stint touring with Deafheaven at the end of 2018, DIIV have returned with a darker, grungier and outright heavier sound on their third album Deceiver.
DIIV have always placed at the softer end of shoegaze. Clean arpeggiated guitars, reverb-drenched vocals, and ethereal atmospheric swells have constituted much of their discography. On Deceiver, these hazy tones are infused with a healthy dose of grunge as fuzzy guitars and distorted riffs take center stage. Opening track “Horsehead” sets the precedent for the rest of the album. Overdriven arpeggios, soft vocals and distorted, chugging guitars drive the song before ramping into a fuzzy wall of sound for its close. In many ways, DIIV’s approach to their music has changed little. Songs are written in a similar vein to their past work but with a newfound bite. It is like the band discovered the dirt channels on their amps, switched them on, and never looked back.
And this bite is amplified by the album’s lyrics as Smith reflects on his substance abuse and struggle of achieving, and maintaining, sobriety. In usual shoegaze style, the vocals are smothered in reverb and sung so softly they are often difficult to decipher. But in the moments when they break through the mix, Smith gives a stark illustration of alienation, self-misunderstanding, and confusion. “I apologize to all I see / For everything I used to be,” Smith sings on “Between Tides”, reflecting the pained regret common to the album’s tracks.
In spite of this, DIIV feel a little too comfortable for their own good as they trudge a similar beat throughout. Songs start with languorous guitar lines that are gradually layered with fuzzier guitars and more pounding drums until a burst of fuzz enters to mark the climax of the piece. Songs like “For the Guilty” and “Lorelei” follow this formula that, while a solid foundation, becomes stale by the album’s end. Closing track “Acheron” tries to shake this up. Bleeding influences of Deafheaven’s signature blend of metal and shoegaze, the track allows for greater ebbs and flows but drags this interesting new direction over an unnecessary seven minutes.
Other tracks are more successful. “The Spark” is one of the album’s most upbeat and lively tracks, featuring a bright guitar refrain that makes the final grungy climax all the more rewarding. The standout track is “Blankenship” with a fantastically jagged guitar riff and menacingly prophetic lyrics warning of eco-destruction. These much-need tracks keep the album fresh and prevent it from descending into a 44-minute block of repetitive duplication.
Embracing their grungier influences, Deceiver marks a significant departure from DIIV’s previously established brand of shoegaze. Tonally, the album may come to be seen as an outlier or turning point in the band’s sound, but will certainly be held up as a solid addition to their discography.