Review Summary: i want to dream too
It's no lie that any effort to bring something new to black metal can be rather polarizing unless it already has ties within the genre. Even the geography of the band can make a big difference as to how well it will be recieved, which is a shame, because there's some genuinely great black metal that comes from the US, all of the negative hype aside. This band definitely fall victim to such negative press for all of the wrong reasons as opposed to, by large, the quality of their music.
Deafheaven are a US black metal band that mix elements of post-rock into their music with perhaps a few tastes of screamo in the vocals and overall chaos, despite the rather positive tone of many of these tracks. Right off the bat you'll have your purists crying foul and where I don't stand with the purists, I'm very far from the camp that praises Roads to Judah, their debut, like the second coming. The cleanly produced yet soaked-in-reverb sound just makes the whole thing frustrating and the songs just don't flow in interesting ways, not to mention none of the tracks have a good riff to their name and solely relied on the textures rather than the content. That's far from a bad concept but when the production is just as confused as the compositions it just makes the whole thing a true try on patience affair. It's a real exercize in frustration from start to finish but it wasn't without potential.
So let's begin by saying that Sunbather is at the very least not a rehash, nor does it fall into the same potholes. Sunbather definitely doesn't sound confused and it sounds like it's much more aware of how it wants to sound rather than relying on tried-and-true aesthetics. The album is far more direct, more finely tuned in its production and construction which makes this album infinitely more enjoyable than the debut. What's more they actually write decent riffs now, though they take a lot from the Envy positive post-rock affair, especially with the screamo influence too but it doesn't sound like a contrived copycat attempt and they put their own spin on it. They keep the very upfront focus of screamo but finetune it to make it far more suited for more song lengths by pushing the vocals into the background and adding variation to the riffs here and there. But there are several reasons why Envy excel at this concept and Deafheaven falter, and much of it is in the blastbeat-happy focus that this album strives for.
Intensity doesn't really sound like intensity when you become adjusted to it and have heard it for too long and it's the total lack of variation in this album that kills its momentum. Just about every track on this album (except the interludes) is constant blastbeats for about 90% of the runtime and it completely forgets what it one of the most important aspects of post-rock - build and release. The reason that the climaxes in Godspeed You! Black Emperor's tracks sound so huge is because the rest of the track builds up to those moments. If you were to hear them standalone they simply wouldn't impress in the same way, which is unfortunately the biggest flaw of Sunbather's pacing.
But a larger problem is that the pacing issues aren't just isolated within the tracks - it's in the whole album too. You have four overlong tracks bookmarked by three interludes, two of them completely useless and tacked on without much thought that don't really segue the tracks at all and if you were to not listen to them you wouldn't be missing out on just about anything. Sunbather is frustrating because it's really onto something but it's almost like the band made a concious decision to fall short of their own concept and ambition. Positivity and intensity works, it just needs balance and a lot of refinement which Sunbather doesn't have a lot of. On the surface it seems refined and with a very balanced sound and production but it's just so fundamentally flawed in its songwriting that it never reaches what it could. Perhaps if the interludes were a lot better they'd have made these tracks not seem so overlong but they just aren't that good.
So what we're left with is a case of 'what could have been'. The way 'Dream House' progresses and balances out the intensity and delicate tones is great, and the way it segues into the next track but the rest of the tracks just seem like blueprints in comparison that just can't nail the balance right, along with the pointless interludes that make the record all the more frustrating. Sunbather is worth hearing but there's no lasting appeal to really be had because they just didn't expand on and refine it. Pity, too.
The album is still chickens, though. :]