Album review: Deafheaven - 'Ordinary Corrupt Human Love'
On their fourth studio album, blackgaze pioneers Deafheaven venture into new territories while refusing to abandon the band's core mechanics.
Deafheaven turned the metal world upside down on its head back in 2013, when their second album - the beastly and beautiful ‘Sunbather’ - became a massive cult hit and catapulted them out of the somewhat sectarian black metal scene that they’d existed in for half a decade. With it's confounding bright pink album cover and its even stranger juxtaposition of raw, guttural black metal and hypnotic, shiny shoegaze, the album carved out a niche for Deafheaven in the outer margins of the already marginalized post-metal genre, making them the undisputed kings of 'blackgaze.'
Their 2015 follow-up, ‘New Bermuda,' saw the band flexing their new-found muscles, a near flawless assault of glorious genre-defying sounds that doubled-down on their style, but gave little away as to their future direction. Now, three long years later (the longest gap between two consecutive Deafheaven albums) arrives ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love,' a fourth studio album that while reconfirming the band as a genreless powerhouse, also gives them the new status of the flag-bearers of the indie mainstream.
The album opener 'You Without End' is an announcement that we're in for a lot of new things, without losing hold of the roots of the essential Deafheaven. The seven-and-a-half minute track opens with a flourish of a grand piano while Kerry McCoy opens with melancholic slide guitars. There are sung backing vocals (courtesy of West Coast occult-rocker Chelsea Wolfe) and for the first three minutes of the song, it is absolutely sublime post-rock catharsis.
It's a sign that this time around, the shoegaze and atmospherics will take their own sweet deliberate time to unfurl, letting the blazing black metal take the back-burner. The middle of the song erupts with George Clarke's signature death growls, before settling into the piano-centered groove again. It's the first of three sprawling songs that clock-in progressively longer than the other.
'You Without End' flows seamlessly into the first previewed track and lead single 'Honeycomb.' Undoubtedly the heaviest cut of the album, the song channels the relentless percussive barrage that filled ‘New Bermuda’, helmed by Daniel Tracy’s impeccable work behind the drumkit. It’s the first song that ventures out beyond the ten-minute mark and it does so with a purposeful grace. They do this, as Dan Lake of MetalSucks aptly puts it, “not because Deafheaven is indecisive or jam-dependent, but simply because the sonic structures they build have enough corridors, balconies and crawlspaces to merit the extended attention.” Deafheaven is as confident as ever as they proudly exhibit the depth in their sonic pool, inviting us for a deep and refreshing dive.
The album is also an invitation for multiple listenings, each one more rewarding than the last. At the four-minute mark, the track turns from a pummelling metal track into a punk song that skips along with momentum, showcasing the first of many flirtations in the album with multiple genres. Throughout the album, this almost messy yet deliberate mix of genres tells us one thing - it's a record that sees the band having more fun than ever before.
The second single 'Canary Yellow' follows through with even grander soundscapes which careen precariously between the serene and the chaotic, each section fleshed out fully and thoughtfully before finally ending with a rare show of Clarke's singing prowess, as he abandons the death growls and shows off a deeper vocal register on a hymn-like chant.
Halfway through the album, we get some breathing room as we see Deafheaven at their most melodic in the form of the Explosions in the Sky reminiscent post-rock spawl 'Near.' "The midnight blue of your calmness, like evening chamomile, peppermint, eyes as morning rosewater," Clarke croons on the track, a welcome change as he shows off more of his clean vocals. 'Glint' offers another beautiful, sprawling imagery in typical Deafheaven style as Clarke explores the theme of growing older with a loved one.
'Night People' offers yet another final breather with its shimmering atmospherics before diving into the album closer 'Worhtless Animal,' which features a breath-taking 15-second straight death growl that melts into a stream of brief, symphonic arpeggios. As the album draws closer to the end, the cathartic swells build larger than ever, leaving you more than satisfied, but desperate for more.
And all you have to do to get more is play it again because the complex depth of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (a title borrowed from a seminal Graham Greene work) will leave you with something new a with every subsequent listen (especially once you pull out some liner notes and start exploring the lyrical themes packed into the death growls).
'Ordinary Corrupt Human Love' is much more dialed down than 'New Bermuda' and has some of the intricacies of 'Sunbather,' but comes with its own unique flavor and at a much more deliberate pace, each movement being measured to perfection before seamlessly flowing into the other. The fade-out at the end of the album leaves us with the sounds of the ocean that the album also begins with. In that contemplative moment, it could be tempting to see the album as Deafheaven's most mature work so far, but that would discount all the child-like playfulness packed into the many swerves and side-steps throughout the album.
Just like their genre which is so hard to define, it's also hard to place an exact finger and say exactly where OCHL falls within Deafheaven's canonical works. But one thing's for certain - Deafheaven have gone from pioneers to staunch stalwarts in their field and it looks like they're here to stay for a while.
'Ordinary Corrupt Human Love' is due out this Friday, July 13 via ANTI- Records.