Always & Forever: DEAFHEAVEN - Infinite Granite Review

After setting the world ablaze with album after album laced with controversy, the San Francisco metalgazers make yet another hairpin turn.

Photograph by Robin Laananen

Words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly):

Despite forming in 2010, the Deafheaven story in the public consciousness actually began on June 11th, 2013. On that day, the group released their sophomore record, Sunbather, to extreme reactions on both sides of the musical spectrum. On one hand, major outlets like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and NPR went gaga over the album and its accessible sound for non metal fans. On the other, you had the scruffy “trve kvlt” neckbeard types who spank their monkey to every raw black metal demo and immediately lambasted George Clarke, Kerry McCoy, and Daniel Tracy for being “hipster garbage” and “not metal”, and those were the NICE insults. The trio’s blending of US black metal, shoegaze, dream pop, screamo, post hardcore, and even usage of ambient field recordings was something that caught on fast with people with either persuasion, leading to extreme derision or adulation.

I remember the day Sunbather entered my life very fondly. I won’t go into too much detail simply because that is an album that I wish I could go into more depth about. Suffice to say, the album was a game changer for many, including myself, in discovering new sounds outside of the sphere of metal. As far as I’m aware when the band dropped New Bermuda in 2015, most of the haters were silenced. This was Deafheaven at their most aggressive. I mean hell, it even featured some guitar chugging that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Slayer record. The band would continue to tour and garner both hate and admiration for their adventurous sound until in 2018 when they released another game changer, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. While most found this album to be a new artistic peak for the group, it took me up until a few months ago to really appreciate the album in its entirety. The record featured more odd ambient shifts as well as an increased influence from Britpop that comprised the album's diverse sound.

This brings us into the world that is continually ravaged by COVID-19 and Deafheaven really decided to mess with us once again on Infinite Granite. Instead of what you’d come to expect from the band on past efforts, what we are greeted with is much more subdued and mellow. In short, the group have now gone full Slowdive meets the first Alcest record, Souvenirs d'un autre monde (2007). In even shorter terms, it's a slightly heavier form of shoegaze, which is nothing new in Deafheaven‘s repertoire. They implemented it masterfully on Sunbather and continued to use it frequently on subsequent releases, but like all great artists must do, they've once again taken a sonic shift to focus more heavily on the elements of this very under appreciated alternative rock genre while toning down most of their metal influence.

Opener Shellstar sounds like a mix of early My Bloody Valentine mixed with some Tangerine Dream during its opening, providing very bright and shimmering chords courtesy of guitarists Shiv Mehra and Kerry McCoy. Then, George Clarke comes in, not with a roar, but with a measured yet controlled vocal performance. I would almost compare it to Robert Smith or even Dave Gahan if we really want to stretch the envelope. Those expecting more of a metal centric effort after an album like OCHL are going to be sadly mistaken. The track is very ethereal, in that it almost sounds like it could’ve been released on the 4AD label in the early to mid 90’s. Following track, In Blur, has more of that jangle pop flavor one could expect from a more vintage band yet the group make it work wonders throughout the song’s five and a half minute runtime. There are even parts of Clarke’s vocal performance that sound like Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes around the band’s One Second (1997) and Host (1999) era. Clarke’s crooning is something I didn’t necessarily anticipate and also something I didn’t realize I needed in my life. The bass and drum work on the track is symbiotic to an infectious degree as Daniel Tracy and Chris Johnson keep the low end present and with a pulse.

First single Great Mass of Color is where I feel many of the band’s longtime fans started to feel alienated. I mean, even I was a little confused when I first heard the track. The opening almost sounds like Politik from Coldplay’s 2002 album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. This was a smart decision on the band’s part to release this track as the first single so as to ease everyone into the rest of the record ahead. The quiet bass solo break is a very welcome nod to bands like Curve and Ride while Clarke’s near angelic vocals float like clouds above the whirling six string hurricane below. It's dreamy yet also filled with melancholy, providing hope for what’s to come. It’s also interesting because the song’s final minute features one of the only screams and one of the heaviest instrumental passages on the album so as to say, “Here’s where we were, but here we are now.”