Review Summary: a few shades paler
When "Brought to the Water", the first track from Deafheaven's third record New Bermuda was released in August, it didn't matter if you were a fan or not, it had the whole of the black metal community in violent curiosity about what was next for the band. The song itself was quite good; as a slightly more abrasive take on Sunbather's ethereal elements, it romanticized Deafheaven's relationship with 90's alternative rock and strengthened their black metal aesthetic in one fell swoop. It was a statement to their basement dwelling dissenters that they too, were a part of the black metal scene.
However, therein lies the overall problem with New Bermuda; not every track is the resounding success that "Brought to the Water" was. It simply doesn't sound like the album Deafheaven wanted to make, but rather an album that attempts to cater to the wants of everyone else. Sunbather was the product of a band dedicated to their own singular vision and was an instant classic because of that. It was balanced, confident, and passionate. New Bermuda on the other hand is at times unsure of itself, frantically searching for an identity throughout the entirety of its five tracks. Its an album built on one jagged transition after the next, "Baby Blue" easily being the worst offender. Its jubilant opening is soon overpowered by vapid power-chord simplicity and continues to get worse from that point, meandering about without purpose or direction. It ends on a sour note, introducing a falsely tantalizing build-up that ultimately leads to nowhere, fading into unfulfilled nothingness instead of capitalizing on what could have been a climactic ending. Likewise, "Come Back" searches for inspiration in all the wrong places. Though the single-note black metal barbarism worked fantastically on "Brought to the Water", by the time you hear it for the fourth time on "Come Back" it's lost all of its luster. Even when the track attempts to soar and bring back the blackened glide guitar of Sunbather, it fails to reach the same stratospheric heights, turbulently plummeting towards the earth instead.
Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings there are still some truly exciting moments to be found on New Bermuda. The aforementioned "Brought to the Water" remains to be a standout and its follow-up "Luna" may be the best track on the album. Though still wildly incoherent, every section is individually excellent. It's in this track, we see a glimpse of what Deafheaven does best; pink hued guitars return in breathtaking form as George Clarke shreds his throat with a newfound sense of vitriol. Like Roads to Judah and their demo, his vocals have returned to the realm of black metal. Ending on a high-note, closing track "Gifts For The Earth" recaptures past glories, recreating both the bouncy post-black metal of previous tracks like "Daedalus" and the gut-wrenching melodies of "Sunbather" effortlessly. It's a bittersweet reminder of how great this album could have been if all the songs were of this quality,
New Bermuda is bound to be endlessly compared to its predecessor, and for good reason; Sunbather wasn't just an excellent album, it represented the peak of Deafheaven's abilities and to a greater extent, the post-black metal genre itself. And in the end, this just doesn't quite match up. It's the most disappointingly satisfying listen of the year. When you listen to tracks as magnificent as "Luna", it's frustrating to think how much better this album could of been if the band had followed the beat of their own drum and not let the naysayers dictate tempo instead. However, though it's a few shades paler than Sunbather it is still certainly a worthwhile album; there are moments scattered throughout it that will still make your heart race and send shivers down your spine. New Bermuda may not be what exactly everyone hoped for, but it's still that stray beam of sunlight cutting though the overcast sky, warming everything in its reach.