Words by Peter Quinton

When the San Francisco metal act Deafheaven dropped their astounding sophomore album Sunbather just barely a month ago, it felt like much more than just another great metal album. A harrowing, exhilarating epic from front to back, Sunbather felt significant in its near flawless blending of extreme harshness and beauty, garnering the relatively unknown band throngs of critical praise and attention both inside and outside the metal community. I could just still be riding on the high of the album’s release with less than a month passing since, but over 20 listens later, the album has only grown more engaging and awe-inspiring.

But with this sudden achievement, I began to worry that this may have all been a fluke – that while Deafheaven have undoubtedly put out a landmark release, very little else about the band, including the act of performing live, could ever measure up to such enormous standards. But as I threw myself amongst the energized crowed and drenched myself in the walls of blissful noise encompassing the entirety of 285 Kent Ave, it became clear to me that I was witnessing something truly special.

Before I get too into Deafheaven’s set, however, I’d like to shed a little light on the show’s impressive opening band, Marriages. As I watched the trio, consisting of singer/guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle, bassist Greg Burns, and drummer Andrew Clinco, tune up a synthesizer as I impatiently stood in a packed, sweaty 285 Kent, my expectations weren’t very high. But after taking a while to set up, the group quickly pulled me in with their dense, slow-burning brand of psych-rock. I don’t recall any smoke machines in use that night, but throughout the set, the band felt completely shrouded in haze as Burns’ trudging baselines and Rundle’s amorphous vocals and celestial guitar melodies built their own fog around them. The band ended their set with a massive, ten-minute psychedelic dirge, which probably would have been less exhausting had I been ready for it (or not as anxious for Deafheaven), but the end result left quite an impression, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the band goes from here.

As satisfying as Marriages set was, nothing could have prepared me for the absolute onslaught that was approaching. As each band member took the stage, silencing the audience with wave upon wave of piercing feedback, you couldn’t help but feel that some ominous threat was forming all around you, like being trapped in pitch black forest while a pack of wolves sized you up. I knew the attack was coming, I could feel it all around me, but the band built the tension up to a near breathless anticipation as vocalist George Clarke stared intently into the crowd as the feedback blared behind him. It brought the suspense to such stomach-twisting heights that by the time the band incinerated the audience with “Dream House,” the initial force was overwhelming. From then on, the show was a marathon of high-stakes metal blitzkriegs.

The bands setlist consisted mainly of material off of their new album, with 4 tracks from Sunbather and one from their previous release, Roads to Judah (which would seem underwhelming except that most of these tracks average around ten minutes). It might not seem like lengthy, back-to-back black metal epics would translate well live – especially churned out with the insane force and energy Deafheaven utilizes – and I’ll admit I was skeptical that it would all just come out like a hazy distorted blur. But even with so much going on, it was amazing to see the level of control that the members of Deafheavan had over their own rapturous chaos, as every thunderous guitar riff, gymnastic drum attack, and soaring melody felt as rich and detailed live as they did on record.

But the real standout of the evening – the element that really brought the frightening conviction of Deafheavan’s music to life – was vocalist George Clarke, who may just be one of my new favorite front man. Sporting completely black attire, leather gloves, and an ice-encrusted stare, Clarke walked on stage resembling either an undertaker or a general leading an army of demons to attack, and his presence on stage deemed him fit to do both. Clarke’s performance perfectly displayed the bands savage-yet-delicate take on black metal, beating his chest one minute to display dominance at one instance and limply falling into the crowds embrace the next. All of this – I must add – pulled off with an absolutely unflinching demeanor, with Clarke fixing his cold, mad-man gaze on the audience even as concert-goers made snarky comments like, “Is this the fast track?” And though Clarke’s voice – a piercing, maddening screech – could be a deal-breaker not accustomed to harsh vocals, there was no doubt that it sounded especially intense amplified live, aiming right for the depths of the eardrum and exploding upon impact.

Occasionally, when you’re seeing a great band in their prime put everything into their performance and you’re right in the thick of it, a feeling bubbles up from within the pit of your stomach that you’re witnessing something important – something that you’ll never forget – and you’re not sure if it’s ok to trust it. I distinctly recall having flashes of this feeling while drifting along the bands pummeling set, and realistically, only time will tell if this sensation was the real deal or not. But there are some things you simply can’t deny upon leaving a show, and the truest of all these realizations was this: Deafheaven are the real deal.

That night, when I finally reached my room after a long trek to Brooklyn, my body exhausted and my mind reveling in the night, I became acutely aware of the faint, ambient ringing that buzzed from ear to ear as I sat in silence. For me, this is commonplace, especially after attending as loud of a show as I just witnessed, but for the first time that I can recall, the ringing wasn’t just noise. It was beautiful, and I bathed in it.


TheWaster.com | Dream House