Review Summary: A landmark album due to its fearless vision, its understanding of how the involved genres deeply resonate with their audiences.Sunbather
will be remembered as the release on which Deafheaven came into their own, a classic case of a sophomore album taking a band's talent to inconceivable heights. Stylistically, Sunbather
is a complete success in that Deafheaven have a clear-cut understanding of the allure behind their influences – that the percussive assault of black metal harbors adrenaline and unrepressed emotion, that the sweeping climaxes of post-rock imagine utopias of unspeakable grandeur, that the reverb of shoegaze captures the subconscious bliss of daydreams. The music here is constructed with concern towards dramatic effect, resolute focus on how the genres pulled from connect with listeners. That Deafheaven demand consideration on their own terms dismisses conversation surrounding their "black metal authenticity," and rightfully so: in a genre that has proven to be a medium for strikingly raw expressions of the human condition, the audience has become complacent in expecting underpinnings of nihilism and misanthropy. Deafheaven flip the script by taking the hallmarks of black metal – the blastbeat attrition, the manic shrieks, the distorted guitar textures – and reimagining them by staring directly at the sun, the glaring intensity of the light rays searing the retinas, blinding vision in a lust for life, for triumph, for the heart-stopping vertigo of falling in love, for finding genuine, startling connections with people, for one day withering away into nothingness. Deafheaven embody black metal in such radical defiance of norms, the steadfast individualism by which they capture their striking vision. Their authenticity is asserted by not participating in the conversation surrounding it, instead pursuing their artistic inclinations with firm self-belief. Sunbather
is the culmination of this admirable faith, a consuming work that provokes thought just as much as it sears the heart, glowing bright past every listen through its scalding soundscapes.
Four towering compositions define Sunbather
's ambitions, with interludes segued in between for contrast and overarching ambience. The album’s success is dependent on this structure, as a tightrope is established on which the listener's attention is balanced between submission to overwhelming sound and relief in the breathing space of the interludes. Deafheaven's intuition is remarkably active; "Dream House" initiates Sunbather
in frenzied velocity, turbulent percussion manifesting a storm, one weathered by fluorescent guitar chords and rapturous screams. The storm eventually clears for a moment of panoramic reflection, a mid-flight gaze upon the land far below, guitars gliding in spectacular awe. The touchdown is provided on the following track, the cheekily titled "Irresistible," all sentimental guitar strums and piano notes, dissolving tension before the next takeoff to the stratosphere. Such instinctive songwriting ensures mutual travel with the listener, thrilling and relieving in deliberate sequence. Sunbather
follows this template impeccably, to the extent that some listeners will foresee destinations, taking away some of the surprise of arrival. Nevertheless, Deafheaven steer their vessel with clever side swerves: the haunting guitar motif of "Vertigo" stalls movement, averting comfort through ominous tonality; "Please Remember" cuts through ambience with deafening machine noise; "Windows" recalls Godspeed You! Black Emperor in its God-fearing transmissions, footsteps, and car horns. Sunbather
is an arresting experience due to the sights glimpsed on the journey, the breathtaking heights and unsettling lows, a trip orchestrated for the listener with warm companionship.
The method by which Deafheaven rationalize the hysterical rasps with the optimistic tone is a vital talking point, as it is initially hard to reconcile. The vocals obey precedent set by atmospheric black metal – they are incorporated as emotive texture rather than self-expression. This renders the vocalist as ultimately anonymous: his screams feel distant and impersonal even when foregrounded in the mix, emotion perceptible but inaccessible. This lends the music a strange sense of alienation even when it is sun-stroked; the exuberant head rush felt by the listener feels private, triumph that cannot be explained but rather only understood by the self, personal conviction independent of need for validation. So the manic shrieks are not pained contrast to the searing pleasure but rather reinforcement, intensity of feeling that is abstracted but still unmistakably genuine.
is a landmark album due to its fearless vision, its understanding of how the involved genres deeply resonate with their audiences. The presentation is impeccable, from the pink hues of the cover art, suggesting sun rays glinting through closed eyelids, to the track sequencing, to the immersive travel impressed by the song construction. Even the band name, Deafheaven, is eerily thought-provoking, imagining an ultimate utopia with the morbid peace of sound loss. That this album has garnered hype traction is appropriate – a release this innovative has the potential to draw listeners far outside the predicated audience. And that bodes well for Deafheaven, a truly forward-thinking act, as they continue to expand their creative horizons far beyond any of our expectations.