‘Sunbather’ is a fiercely emotive record of heartbreaking beauty

(Deathwish Records)

‘Tis the season to be jolly and, sadly for music fans, ’tis also the time of year wherein the release schedules are inevitably clogged with the annual detritus of god-awful “Best of”s, Christmas compilations records, and Michael Bublé albums. It is, therefore, perhaps time to take stock, reflect, and review some slightly more relevant music that perhaps slipped by us, beginning with this phenomenal record released in July.

The notion of taking elements of two divergent musical genres and combining them in an attempt to create something radical goes either one of two ways: stroke of genius, or unmitigated disaster. The amazing is sadly accompanied by the atrocious. The sublime with the ridiculous. Think of it in these terms, ladies and gentlemen; for every Rage Against The Machine, we must suffer a Limp Bizkit.

To the list of genre-spanning classics we can add the unlikely, unequivocal triumph that is Deafheaven‘s second record, the stunning black metal-meets-shoegaze Sunbather. Yeah, I know. You read that right. Black metal meets shoegaze. By some hitherto unknown form of musical alchemy, Deafheaven’s San Francisco-based core duo of George Clark and Kerry McCoy have managed to fuse the very best of two wildly disparate genres and have emerged with something truly remarkable: a triumphant record of intense, wounded beauty.

(image: Deafheaven)

Such is the coherent, consistent nature of this genuine modern classic, that even the usually simple matter of picking of highlights is rendered almost impossible. Each track supports and compliments the next perfectly, working to create an undulating and intensely affecting atmosphere throughout the entire record. Tension follows release; reverb-drenched, echo-inflected moments of intricate gorgeousness follow intense periods of black metal blast beats and heavy, tremolo picked guitar. It shouldn’t work, not even for a second. Yet, amazingly, the transitions between such jarring aesthetics are handled with such deftness and care that the listener cannot fail to be swept up and carried away by the sheer power of this tremendous, soulful, stunning record.

Sunbather’s longer tracks conspire to effortlessly blend the soaring dynamics found on the best shoegaze / post-rock records by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, and Explosions In The Sky with the kind of lyrical fury, intensity, and delivery found in the very best black metal (Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immmortal, etc.) releases. The result is never less than – and I am loath to use a word so casually tossed around these days – well… epic. The shorter pieces provide a necessary, instrumental respite from the dark and haunting lyrical content of those longer compositions with their themes of disappointment, alienation, self-doubt, and desperation. Feelings best expressed in a hopeless, longing exchange between two lost, kindred spirits seeking release on album opener “Dream House”:

“I’m dying.”

“Is it blissful?”

“It’s like a dream.”

“I want to dream, too.”

By its very nature, a black metal/shoegaze hybrid may not be to everyone’s taste; the vocal delivery may well be a sticking point for listeners unfamiliar with more extreme music. Those who afford the time and space that such a work deserves will find that Sunbather is without question a fiercely emotive record of sometimes overwhelming power and heartbreaking beauty. By turns thrilling and cathartic, delicate and ethereal, this is a record that tightens its emotional grip with every repeat listen.

Bold. Brutal. Beautiful. Brilliant.

About John Stubley

John Stubley
John Stubley is a part-time Associate Professor of English, and full-time repository for pointless trivia. Holding rather worthless degrees in Media and Popular Culture, and 18th Century English Literature, he now fills his time by spouting forth opinions on everything that may conceivably be referred to as Pop Culture to anyone who will listen, and many who won't.

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