The thunderstorms and grittiness that sandwiched the last evening of last year's ArcTanGent Festival suited vocalist George Clarke just fine. There was clear excitement about the band headlining their first festival, even if sub-headliner Cult of Luna's travel woes did mean their set times collided. In their short existence, Deafheaven have had to live with the polarity that comes from being a heavier band with a wide range of influences. Perhaps being tarred prematurely with a ‘black metal’ tag in early years, a tired notion of authenticity has been probed through forums and YouTube comments alike. So when I ask George about using their uncomfortable position to bring similar sounding artists to wider recognition, he’s positive about the idea but does try to distance himself from the label. “I’d love if someone who had gotten into us embraced a load of bands with similar sounds. I think that’s a positive thing. I don’t think we are a black metal band but we have a lot of those characteristics but I’m happy to share that and it’s appreciated when people say that we’re taking a progressive view on the style.”
Back in 2011, Deafheaven’s first album Roads to Judah showed signs of promise. Side stepping the marathon blastbeats and identical thick textures of similar acts, there was a good total of shoegaze leverage coming through. However, whilst never clumsy or disarrayed, the blend of sounds were never weaved as neatly as the records that followed. Sunbather was then released and it’s still a record I come back to a lot. Starkly, there was a lot of hope and brighter moments this time around. Each section was measured and equalled out. For every harsh, relentless collision, there was a wash-out, prettier section to follow. Lyrically, a careful balance between elements of anger and frustration nestled in with detachment and longing taught through aquatic themes of this album. It’s only in the water where one can be cleansed. Where they succeeded was how seamless this all came in together: One beautiful, pastel-coloured metal album that had this fragile interior. George has mentioned in the past that this album was inspired by growing up in a family that didn't have much money and wondering what it would be like to grow up with a more affluent background.
“Not everything is spic and span, and your dreams – when they do come true – are not what you thought they would be. There are responsibilities that come across with adulthood and maturity and it deals with that.”
George's lyrics still realm alongside the chimera but the words are far more sobering on New Bermuda. There's an awakening that's far more actual than in previous releases. "So much of Sunbather fanatically is based in hope and dreams in a longing nature and in wanting better for you. New Bermuda focuses more on the reality of day to day life. Not everything is spic and span, and your dreams – when they do come true – are not what you thought they would be. There are responsibilities that come across with adulthood and maturity and it deals with that. It’s less “what could be” and more what actually is. I think it’s more of a personal record. I think it’s a bit darker but, most of all, it’s very in the moment; it’s exactly how I was feeling in the last couple of years."
There's a strain to how all the five songs on New Bermuda have fused. Having to adapt to being a band that have to break a triple figure amount of shows yearly can bring weariness physically and emotionally. Two years between albums are seen as hasty but George did add that working with one constant throughout recording does bring an air of composure. "Jack Shirley did all of our records, up until this one. So working with him is very comfortable. He understands the band really well. It’s relaxed in that sense. I know that I could tell him something and he would know exactly what I was talking about. Sonically, I can be like, “I want the guitars to sound like that” and I know he’d be able to do that. But musically, with the song writing, I think there’s a lot more urgency on this record. The writing process was very stressful. I think you hear that on the pace of the songs. We trimmed a lot of the fat and we made the songs a bit more concise, a bit more fluid. To me, it sounds more mature, it sounds like a band who knows what they’re doing. With Sunbather, we were just flying blind."
There's something quite audacious about releasing a new album and playing it in full as one piece. Deafheaven have always opted to do this during their tours for Sunbather, usually throwing in a track from Roads to Judah in at the end. In speaking of the brave nature behind this, it may always come with difficulties: "Whilst it’s definitely a confidence boost, it’s definitely more of a challenge."
George speaks confidently about Deafheaven and this boldness does radiate in live performances, but there’s a coyness that comes about when discussing the future. In the past, he’s mentioned that he occasionally wishes Sunbather wasn’t quite so emotionally cutting when talking about his father not being around while growing up.
In all cases, Deafheaven have succeeded in what New Bermuda was intended to be – a colossal divide between hopelessness and beauty and the tension that fissures as a result. As we leave, George speaks about the confidence issues that come with playing new songs live. "We can be confident at times, but most of the time we’re normal people and we’re scared to play new music,” before adding a smile. “I’m ok to admit that."
Words by Niall Cunningham