Deafheaven - Roads to Judah
Deathwish Inc.
Post-black metal
4 songs (38:22)
Release year: 2011
Deafheaven, Deathwish Inc.
Reviewed by Charles
For a black metal band on their first album, California’s Deafheaven have an unusually large number of facebook friends. As those of you that read my review of their demo of last year may know, the reason for this is, of course, that they are standard bearers for a sort of ‘post-black metal’ that ostensibly sees no value in ‘black metal’ itself, per se. For them, it is just something with distorted tremolo riffs that can potentially be mixed and matched with whatever else you see fit, a bit like some people might wear an Anthrax t-shirt with sequined flares. This is, undoubtedly, the height of blasphemy, but in all honesty it is the attitude I’ve always had myself. In skilled hands it works, especially if those hands have ultra-credible track records to draw upon.

As it happens, Deafheaven do have skilled hands, but perhaps not the blackened credibility. This comes from America, where everyone is a hipster, as opposed to the frozen European wastes where there isn’t a schoolgirl above the age of six who hasn’t done time for blasphemous arson. And lo, though you could see it as the logical extension of what acts like Wolves in the Throne Room and Altar of Plagues have been doing, the album bares very little resemblance to black metal at all. It will probably appeal more to fans of acts like Pelican, or screamo types looking for something a little more melancholic. Nonetheless the rich harmonies and emotional catharsis of Roads to Judah are greatly aided by the fact that, even where they conspicuously lack the misanthropic black metal intangibles, in a purely mechanical sense they are capable of tremolo blasting of blistering intensity.

The four songs here are stretched-out vamps constructed around warm, sometimes uncomfortably cosy, harmonic frameworks. Interest comes not from rhythmically distinct riffs (of which there are none) but of modulations in the intensity of these backdrops. It is in this sense that their black metal chops have a role to play, with the fury of Trevor Deschryver’s blastbeating and the indisputably ferocious pace of the guitars serving as an often spectacular fifth gear that give the quieter parts somewhere to go. Opener Violet demonstrates expert control of dynamics, beginning with a blissfully washed-out post-rock breeziness, which is manipulated through a series of searing climaxes across the length of its 12 minutes running time.

Criticisms, of course, will be easy to come by in the black metal scene, but for the purposes of this review I am more interested in assessing the album on its own terms. In this sense, it’s perhaps a problem that for much of Roads to Judah, the dynamic range feels too narrow. Despite what I’ve said about the distance of the band’s relationship with black metal, Deafheaven often spend extended periods of time at a straining, roaring maximum pelt. This gives some parts the feel of a less-improvisational version of Liturgy, and also minimises the impact that the subtlety and build-ups inherent in post-rock can have. The Fell Voices-like Tunnel of Trees, for example, dies down into a sort of understated instrumental jam halfway through, before exploding again into a rich climax, without much of a middle stage. Such climaxes are often crashingly effective, but the relatively binary dynamic feel seems to miss some of the art of this sort of thing. It makes me wonder whether the crystal-clear acoustic ideas used on Bedrooms from the band’s demo could have been re-integrated to enable a deeper tonal palette.

There’s little else to do but reiterate the conclusion I drew at the end of my review of their demo. Many approaching this from an orthodox black metal angle will wonder what the point is. For those who feel warmer towards the post-black scene, this is an important album which may be considered a cornerstone of it in years to come.

Killing Songs :
Violet, Unrequited
Charles quoted 83 / 100
Other albums by Deafheaven that we have reviewed:
Deafheaven - Sunbather reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Deafheaven - Demo reviewed by Charles and quoted no quote
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