Those unfamiliar with the world of heavy metal music might be surprised to find out what an insular universe the genre really is. For a scene filled with outcasts, loners and other "rejects" of society, those heavily involved in its subculture are often quick to accuse others of bastardizing and muddying the music they hold so dear.
Deafheaven are no strangers to such labels.
Formed in 2010 in San Francisco, Deafheaven are one of the biggest and most controversial acts to come out of the atmospheric black metal scene that seemed to explode in popularity over the past decade. Their sounds venture far beyond typical metal sounds, incorporating features of post-rock, shoegaze and post-hardcore into their aesthetic.
After releasing their 2013 opus Sunbather, which received acclaim from fans and critics alike, the band released their 2015 follow-up New Bermuda. Unlike previous releases, this record strayed much more within the confines of traditional black metal. Gone were the light and effervescent riffs that made the quintet so unique. As a result, they sounded much more like the dozens of bands trying to copy the trends they first established.
After three years of studio silence, due in part by substance abuse issues faced by multiple band members, Deafheaven has finally returned with " Ordinary Corrupt Human Love", and with it an even larger rejection of the metal orthodoxy.
On "OCHL," the band reached a new level of creativity that may even surpass that of Sunbather. With a title based off of a line from a Graham Greene novel, the record focuses almost exclusively on love. One cannot help but be reminded of Emerson or Blake when reading vocalist George Clarke's metaphorical takes on nature and relationships.
Despite the group's heavy reputation, the album begins on a surprisingly soft note with "You Without Me." Piano notes and guitars reminiscent of a sunrise fill the air and put the listener in a state of calm before the impending storm. We are then welcomed by a spoken-word recording from a short story on Oakland, with lines like "a flock of geese burst from the darkness and flew, shrieking into what was left of the daylight."
It's a beautifully haunting track that encapsulates exactly what Deafheaven are going for with their music. "OCHL" only continues to innovate and experiment from then on.
The bulk of the album consists of four songs lasting for over ten minutes. While that sounds like a taxing chore, the sheer emotion and versatility of these songs make the time fly by.
"Honeycomb" features some of the best instrumentation on the entire record. Guitarist Kerry McCoy has often received criticism from naysayers for being a lackluster player. However, he puts all the critics to shame with an amazingly simple solo, showing he doesn't need to rely on foot pedals to prove his merit as a musician. The track finishes off with four minutes of beautifully mellow piano after seven minutes of soul-shredding shrieks and riffs.
Deafheaven also manages to hearken back to an older sound on "Glint." The track has a heavy Mogwai influence (who the band actually covered back in 2012), and the result is a steadied track that, while sounding tortured, reflects on the beauty of growing old. At the seven minute mark comes easily one of the most beautiful sections the band has ever written. Clarke chants over bristling and bright guitars "I'm shrinking into your gown/Tearing the pink linen of your belly." The post-hardcore influence is undeniable here, and it is a spectacle to behold.
What truly sets "OCHL" apart from other Deafheaven releases is the inclusion of clean vocals, something I can't recall the band ever using before. Both "Near" and "Night People" include no screams whatsoever, with the latter featuring the amazing Chelsea Wolfe on vocals. It's as dark a love ballad as you will find, a welcome change of pace for a band now on its fourth LP.
The best incorporation of clean vocals comes at the end of "Canary Yellow," the longest track on the record. Clarke's wretched yelps combine with ominous voices chanting the same line: "On and on and on we choke on an everlasting handsome night/My lover's blood rushes right through me."
It's a wonder the band doesn't incorporate such features more often, because Clarke's screams, while enthralling, aren't exactly versatile.
Overall, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love proves why Deafheaven are one of the most important bands of their generation. Their distaste for convention might irk some black metal die-hards, but they have opened the door to metal for many individuals that may never have otherwise.
The band is the perfect convergence of happiness and anger, taking you to the top of the mountain while reminding you of the hardships it took to get there in the first place. Deafheaven have not forgotten their roots, but have proven that they're not afraid to toss them to the side of the road as well.
Kyle Land is the Editor-in-Chief for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kyleoftheland.