Album Review: "New Bermuda" by Deafheaven
by Nigel Blair | published Oct. 2nd, 2015
Album: "New Bermuda"
Deafheaven is the sort of band that shamelessly tells the press that they don't believe in labels, and, with a single track, that becomes pretty apparent.
The band takes anywhere from five to 20 minutes to hit you with a sickly sweet rendition of black metal tinged with huge crescendos and shoegazy guitar passages. In this span of time, you can feel like you’re being plunged into the depths of hell and not too long after feel like you’re floating on a post-coital cloud adorned with rainbows and marshmallows. This group goes to extreme measures to feed you a wide range of sounds to enable a wide range of emotional reactions. With each album from start to finish, the journey felt heavy, incredibly engaging and downright epic.
The San Francisco natives released a series of smaller projects until their first full length dropped in 2011. This effort, titled "Roads to Judah," featured a particularly sad and compelling take on the band’s mix between wretched vocals and My Bloody Valentine-esque instrumentals. There was something really emotionally compelling about "Roads to Judah." The record would seamlessly shift from warm, resonant bass-lines to explosions of black metal madness. Their sophomore album, 2013’s "Sunbather," would strip down much of the black metal components, resulting in one of the most acclaimed albums of the year.
Rather than being melancholic the band managed to keep the same general formula, only more ambitious. They polished their production a tad, added some pianos and more effects to their guitars and upped the drum speed. The record’s peaks and valleys were remarkable. The highs were much higher, soaring over the pain and sorrow of the previous sections, and the lows were horribly low. In an hour’s time, "Sunbather" managed to transcend all labels and simply sounded incredible.
After over a year of anticipation for a new Deafheaven release, their new record, "New Bermuda," can't help but be somewhat disappointing.
There are numerous party fouls the band commits during the 47-mintue runtime. There are passages that deflate like a loose balloon and even parts that are downright laughable. What grinds my gears the most, despite the numerous things wrong with this record, is just the simple fact that it feels rushed. There’s around 15 minutes less material on here, which leaves the band trying to create a similar effect crammed down into just one LP. This could have been fine actually, only the group abandons the concise, dreary tone of their 39-minute debut and tries to move in an even more epic direction, which ends up sounding like the musical equivalent of a 35 year-old woman with too much make-up on and a dress that’s way too tight for her current figure. There are really nice improvements made on this record that deserve acknowledgment. For one, the production is still clear, the bass resonant, the drums pummeling and the vocals blown out (with a new touch of reverb that actually works pretty well). In addition to that, the performances are tight as hell, making the heavier sections even more powerful than on "Sunbather." This precise trait though, is what tanks the entire record and makes it almost un-listenable.
The record tries way too damn hard. This Deafheaven release sounds like they got into the studio, took two days discussing how they were going to top "Sunbather," realized they wasted two days talking and then wrote some Slayer riffs with a nod to Sixpence None the Richer. Every song reads like a track off of their last release, from their conclusions to their dynamics. This record sounds angrier when it goes that direction, but it undermines itself in the way the melodies are composed. The softer moments sound phoned in and underwritten. These compositions fade out miserably as if they ran out of ideas, ending the same way a "Sunbather" track would end or losing focus until the next song starts up. “Come Back,” which has some of the heaviest instrumentation of the entire record, complete with a breakdown, is perhaps the only track with some standalone value. The blast beats are unrelenting; the guitars are sinister, awakening evil within you. It also has the best melodic passage as well, feeling naturally triumphant and warm, leading into a really nice instrumental outro.
Simply put, "New Bermuda" is, rather than one of the best records of 2015, nothing short of a cheap imitation of one of the best records of 2013, with some faster drums and heavier riffs thrown in.