Review Summary: Elegance in its most aggressive form.
There seems to be a lot of cynicism when a semi new band tries to make an album worthy enough or significant enough to hold its own weight in a genre filled with very passionate fans, and it is no mean feat these days. It's hard to imagine looking back roughly around the year 2007 when the mixture of shoegaze induced black metal started to take serious form, wondering what it would amount to four or five years down the road. The droning 'wall of sound' density with pummeling drums and melodic underlying riffs is not an uncommon theme when looking on the surface of this style. Much like Alcest
and Wolves in the Throne Room
did to set the standard and pave the way for this sound, so too do Deafheaven open a new avenue to even more possibilities within it.
With Road to Judah, Deafheaven drive to deliver a very rich atmosphere, highly evident from the first song’s opening Drone and Post-Rock-esque sequence. The most surprising aspect to this album just seems to be how massive it all sounds. In a space where many bands fail musically, Deafheaven fills the void, walking a fine line of well known classicality and full blown creativity. The album starts at a very unpredictable point with “Violet”, innocently giving off a soaring, warm feeling that is generally associated with Atmospheric Sludge Metal, but then gradually builds into an onslaught of thick tremolo picking and quickening drum beats. The albums odd vocal delivery seems that of a band whose signature approach was originally etched in Screamo, something not commonly seen in this genre. The personality and passion in the voice is one not too evident in many BM albums recently, ones that usually feel hollow and undramatic. Drawing similarities to last years’ album by Celeste
, the vocals are always very wretched, raw and relentless, which is a great compliment to the instrumentation’s characteristics.
While all the songs contain the slightly generic songwriting identified with Atmospheric Black Metal, it’s very easy to dismiss the flaws and focus on the rich environment the album produces, such as with the beginning of “Unrequited”. The airy guitars and slow riding drums appear very often within all the songs, yet it is all structured very well. Throughout the album, inviting tempo changes and quiet Post-Rock influenced break periods give a slight ease to the listening process, never feeling overwhelming or exhausting. The 38 minute run time should be enough to hold the interest of even the most stubborn and attention deficit metalhead alive. The album is not without its weakness’s however, simply speaking the two middle tracks don’t contain enough power to stand up to the intro and closing songs. Lackluster direction in the middle of “Language Games” quickly drops its charm, and the simplification of the main riff is ordinary and dry. When the synchronized guitars kick in however, it does elevate the song to something beyond itself. This is a time where varied production quality would do well to enhance the sound, rather than take anything away from it.
“Tunnel of Trees” is perhaps the centerpiece of the album, and has the most personality in terms of scale and aspirations. Underneath the drowning atmosphere seems to lie the faintly beating heart of depressive black metal, trickling with pure emotional rawness in which the closest similarity drawn is to Coldworld’s
‘Melancholie²’. The driving force of Coldworld’s
album and this song is the stirring underlying melodies that bounce up and down, and the severely understated vocals. The main influences Deafheaven draw from give Road to Judah its class and backing power. The difference between this band and many other trying to duplicate the sound, is that Deafheaven don’t seem to be ignorantly riding the popularity wave that is ‘Blackgaze’ and Deafheaven make a big enough splash in the water of a musical style filled to the brim with mediocrity. This is a band driven to put a brave new face on the sound while sticking to the basics. Even though this is very different than the traditional path of cold, hollow and bleak production and atmosphere often indentified with the genre, Deafheaven have put together one of the most effective and balanced Black Metal albums in recent months.