Sunday, December 20, 2015
Deafheaven - 'New Bermuda' (2015)
So like a year-and-a-half ago, I went and saw Deafheaven and they were utterly astounding. I had gone in really liking Sunbather but not sure about how I would interact with their live performance. It was one of the greatest concerts I have ever been to. George Clarke was like a Black Metal Freddy Mercury, completely on fire, conducting the pit which ebbed and flowed and surged around him with intuitive hand gestures. I have never seen anything like it. It was an overwhelmingly emotional experience. It was the kind of thing that seemed inalienable to me, inviolate, a fact of having occurred. Of course, all experience is personal and unique. On the way out of the venue, I said something to the effect that it was one of the best Black Metal shows I had ever seen, (up there with the first Watain show I ever saw) and the person I said this to became like really upset and was like 'Deafheaven aren't Black Metal!!!' and so we had this animated conversation, bordering on outrage on the other party's account, who could not believe I would advance such a statement. Not only am I the sort of person who believes that Deafheaven ARE Black Metal, but I am also the sort of idiot who gets into conversations with people who are militantly in the opposing camp. 'New Bermuda' is not going to change anyone's mind as to whether or not Deafheaven earn badges (backpatches?) for scene points, but it is at least as Black Metal as Sunbather and probably quite more so. Before I get to talking about this album, I would like to address why people get so upset about what is or is not Black Metal. People seem to be able to have reasonable conversations about the borderlines between say Thrash and Death Metal without feeling their basic identity has been challenged for the most part, or what is or is not, say, Powerviolence or Grindcore or D-Beat, etc. That is because these arguments are primarily Aesthetic in nature, whereas what is Black Metal is or is not is an Ethical or Religious question. In my life, Hardcore and Metal and Noise and Jazz and Rap and Country/Folk Musicks have been one of my primary channels to experience of The Sacred. Many regard the experience of going to shows or listening at home or in the car to going to church or having an illuminatory event, but not as many people feel like they are part of a religious movement by participation in some or all of these scenes. There are secular-to-religious equivalents, like vegan/straightedge/anarchist HxCx, which is the closest model to Black Metal that I can think of from a sociological perspective. Black Metal, though, directly positions most of its works as Sacred Musick, with a religious orientation, more or less manifest. Second Wave Black Metal in Europe was a movement wherein the aesthetics of the musick were a direct outgrowth of its ethical and religious imperatives. Returning to a harsher, more punk/primitive and/or fundamentalist interpretation of metal against a more easily co-opted and technically progressive form like Death Metal was co-extensive with rejection of the values of Western Society and the Abrahamic Monotheism which had spread with it. This rejection could take many overlapping forms, such as an embrace of violent revolution, adoption of a radical ecological program/opposition to consumerist culture, or adoption of Satanism and/or return to pre-Christian Pagan values. Black Metal was rarely quietist in its proclamation of this stance, sometimes taking direct action against these powers and forces, othertimes practicing a kind of lawlessness-to-brute-violence which resulted in the murder of people whose deaths may or may have not been ideologically motivated. Over time, many Second Wave Black Metal practitioners moved away from this directly confrontational position (or had never adopted it in the first place), preferring their activities to exist primarily in an aesthetic realm, which coincided with a flowering in the formal possibilities of Black Metal into many new forms. Because I am old, I remember when the concept, let alone the practice, of a United States-based Black Metal seemed like a ridiculous oxymoron to many persons. Of course, it had been in the Americas all along, particularly in South America which helped to invent Black Metal in the first place, in the First Wave during the early 1980's, feeding directly into Second Wave European Black Metal, etc. Over time, USBM became grudgingly accepted as being possible and even good in some cases, but one thing it has never been is adherent to any kind of scene orthodoxy. Black Metal is founded upon the rejection of orthodoxy, even when it forms new orthodoxies with which to challenge prior ones, it does so out of a sense of transmission of esoteric wisdom, and an honoring of forebears, rather than a necessarily orthodox aesthetic standpoint. USBM has always been all over the place, generally more personal/isolationist than scene-oriented, with diverse themes and occupations, even as it honors and is inspired by all the Black Metal which has come before it. Honestly, the United States, being the Prime Mover of Worldwide Spread of Militarized Christianity and Capitalist Expansionism NEEDS Black Metal more than anyone else as a form of Negation, a form of Revolt, a Grand NO. And here is why Deafheaven in particular are Black Metal: their concerns are Totally Black Metal in the context of what values are generally held as Good and True in the cultural fabric of the United States. The Gospel of Prosperity, of 'making-it', of the association of moral uprightness with material success, and of poverty with deviance and illness, has been orthodoxy since the 1980's. Christianity and Capitalism interlock hand-in-hand to let everyone know that the elect receive wealth and abundance and that illness and disaster and catastrophe are the province of Sin. Deafheaven's album Sunbather, was about growing up poor and chaotic in an environment replete with extravagant wealth, and both wanting and despising that, feeling less-than and elite-to that entire way of life, a toxic landfill of desire so potent it was able to swamp and undermine everything else. Their music was deceptively pretty and alluring, but what underlay that was this frustrated want which could never be satiated, which was wrong in its very origin. This is a Black Metal appropriate to the United States. People respond to this. It addresses something in them, a rejection and exorcism of falsity and corruption, while also addressing why they have been poisoned in this way to begin with. Deafheaven's immediate album, New Bermuda, is a logical extension of the concerns of Sunbather. It is about having found a partner to have a life with and moving in together. This is a hallmark of adulthood and success in U.S. culture. The fact that expectations surrounding it are so potent, and failure in this realm, although extremely common, is so devastating, and the actuality of it is as trying, tedious, frustrating, and oppressive, as well as comforting and joyous and satisfying, is a bitter upending of another closely-cherished myth in the cultural fabric. This to me is so Black Metal it literally hurts my heart. I wish I could have seen Deafheaven play these songs live on their recent tour, but I am down with listening to it at the car and at home. This year, my partner and kids and I moved to the first house of our own from a previous situation in which we shared a house with another (wonderful) family, and we had ideas about what it would be like, how harmonious and how easy projects would be to complete, how we would behave with one another, etc. Nothing came to pass as we would have thought, much of it far more trying. So this album, New Bermuda, directly speaks to my life, and its struggles with life and adulthood and domesticity overlap with mine. It is helpful to play it in the car or to listen to it at home while doing household work. Musickally, New Bermuda is far better constructed than Sunbather, having tighter structures and echoes to Indie/Classic Rock than Shoegaze/Blackgaze. It does not suffer from the occasional dead spots or drifting sections of its predecessor.If anything, it is way more Black Metal, but a Black Metal reconvened into a Rock Context utterly distinct from Black & Roll, one more weary, chagrined, made bitter but also more realistically hopeful than ever before.