For a band whose wares denote and convey innumerable hours spent staring into the abyss, judging by Thursday’s gig at The Paradise (rescheduled from a hazardously icy Wednesday, March 15), Deafheaven must feel pretty alright about their stations in the world.
Back in the good ol’ days of 2013, Deafheaven’s modern classic sophomore record Sunbather rankled the puritanical wing of black metal fandom while charming a more open-minded, and much fickler, indie rock audience. So even factoring in the strength of a worthy — some have argued, superior — follow-up in 2015’s New Bermuda, the possibility of hipster enthusiasm running its fleeting course without any loyal metalheads sticking around to keep filling concert halls felt like a pessimistic, but entirely plausible, outcome for the unlikely San Franciscan success story.
But, according to circumstances as they appeared Thursday, Deafheaven shall remain a viable organization for as long as George Clarke can screech “I WANT TO DREAM” into the face of a fan who is screaming the same phrase back at him as they both crowd surf upside down. The band’s tenure as a flavor of the week wrapped up years ago, but more than enough listeners hear Deafheaven’s opaque synthesis of black metal and shoegaze and “get it” for Deafheaven to forge their own categorization-resistant pocket dimension. Here, they can carry on their touring careers with eclectic supporting acts and, if playing guitar, stand completely motionless except for their hands, indefinitely.
Clarke’s approach to showmanship — comparable to a maniacal orchestra conductor — has been well-documented. If he isn’t counting off the measures during the breaks between his vocal parts, and melding that necessity into his dance moves, then he’s a goth who loves counting for its own sake enough to warrant a distinction as the Count von Count of rock and roll. I recall reviews for New Bermuda pointing out that the new tracks only required drummer Daniel Tracy to play blast beats most of the time, as opposed to pretty much all the time. So while a Bermuda-slanted setlist could have made Tracy’s life incrementally easier, more than half of the selected cuts — including Mogwai’s “Cody,” likely the closest thing to a conventional pop song Deafheaven’s ever performed — came from Sunbather and their pre-breakthrough Roads to Judah, and I honestly don’t know how Tracy isn’t literally dead now. It’s neat that’s still alive though! That means he can play more Deafheaven concerts. Many people seem to enjoy those! Rumor has it bassist Chris Johnson originated from Boston operation Summoner before Deafheaven ganked him to go on this tour [Editor’s note: this is true]. Hopefully that remains a more permanent arrangement, so I can troll The Rumble next year by repeatedly demanding to know why they refuse to let Deafheaven enter.
Without question, This Will Destroy You have mastered the routine of rolling a gentle, tiny guitar line down a slope until it snowballs into an overwhelming sonic boulder of post-rock excess. But it’s sort of mystifying how, even after more than 10 years, the Texas quartet still can’t figure out how to do a second thing. Without a hint of This Will Destroy You’s bombast or Deafheaven’s degree of aggression, the lavender dirge of Emma Ruth Rundle synced up totally with the glacial, gloomy, day-after-snow storm situation outside. Brandishing a singing style akin to a husky-voiced, benumbed, long-lost third Quin sister, Rundle gives the impression that she didn’t just listen to Jar Of Flies — she understood it on a deeper level than most of us could ever comprehend.
Featured Deafheaven photo by Barry Thompson; follow him on Twitter @barelytomson.