Deafheaven reveal the beauty of black metal at the Cedar


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Deafheaven let a little light shine into their black metal at the Cedar Cultural Center last night.

The band is touring behind Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, their fourth full-length, and their prettiest to date. After Drab Majesty drenched the room in fog machine vapor, Deafheaven took to a stage lit by an array of old lamps, as well as a pair of beautifully ornate lanterns that looked familiar from their video for Human Love's lead single, "Honeycomb."

Though Deafheaven's new music is their lushest yet, the cuts they played from the new album were littered with hard-hitting, euphoric moments, ones the crowd already responds to even though the album is less than a month old, like the melodic vista that opens up suddenly about four minutes into "Honeycomb." The same goes for the spot where the band's clean harmonies join Clarke's shriek at the end of "Canary Yellow," and for the glorious two-guitar harmonies that appear in the back half of "Worthless Animal."

Vocalist George Clarke is a captivating stage presence. Aside from the inhuman shrieks he peals out with not much evident effort, he dances a little and makes flourishy hand motions reminiscent of a dictator. He also seems to have grown his hair out for the express purpose of vigorous headbanging, which is cool.

The previously mentioned lamps lit a significant space in front of the stage. Clarke frequently leaned over the edge, and during those moments you could see a mass of raised hands bathed in bright white light, pumping and writhing and reaching with the songs' tidal motions. Clarke would reach out to touch them with his hands encased in tiny leather gloves, just like Bono, but way scarier.

Most Deafheaven songs are marathons—their average track hovers around 10 minutes long—so they understandably don't deviate too much from the recorded versions. Drummer Daniel Tracy even plays most of his acrobatic fills note-for-note as they appear on the albums. During one of the rare occasions where the band did change things up a little, during "Sunbather," guitarist Shiv Mehra took a solo that genuinely reminded me of Weezer.

Two of black metal's cardinal elements are blast beats and tremolo picked guitars. Tremolo picking is basically just picking really fast without changing chords or notes—you articulate a note or chord as many times as you can, and paradoxically the effect is that of a sustained note, wavering, rather than many notes. And a blast beat is kind of like your textbook oom-pah beat—kick drum on one beat and the snare on the next, then repeat forever—played so fast it 1) sounds like a machine gun, which is obviously desirable, and 2) makes the central pulse of the music a little bit ambiguous.

The Norwegian bands who codified the language of black metal in the '90s (when they weren't burning churches and murdering each other) used those elements to create the ugliest, most confrontational music they could, but Deafheaven wrest moments of beauty from them. The effect of Deafheaven's music has everything to do with the sense of expanding and contracting time you can get when you embed delicate, slow moving melodies in the fast, dense texture of black metal. The fast picking and drumming feel like time rushing past incoherently, but the layered melodies feel like slowing down, taking time to experience everything as it comes. When you play fast enough, music turns around and starts to feel slow again. The band's play with time extends to their song lengths, too; composing a 10- or 12-minute structure allows for a different kind of incremental build than more conventional pop songs, so Deafheaven can hit what feels like a peak and then just let it sit there for a few minutes.

After "Worthless Animal," Clarke said he'd been told the band was just about to run out of time, and this would be their last song of the night. This meant no encore, which was fine with me because we were at a black metal show, and encores are some Anne of Green Gables shit anyway. Instead, the band went right into "Dream House," the song they likely would have encored with anyway. In it, the instruments enter gradually. Tracy counted each entrance in—four stick-clicks followed by lead guitarist Kerry McCoy vigorously picking the first chord, then four more clicks after which Mehra added another triad on top of McCoy's, and finally four symbol taps before the blast beats started.


Canary Yellow
Brought to the Water
Worthless Animal
Dream House