What Did I Miss?

Deafheaven, Sunbather (Deathwish Inc.)

Occultist, Death Sigils (Primitive Ways)

sunbather1It’s not like I don’t spend a lot of time surfing the web, reading magazines, talking to people, and doing all the other things that one does to discover new music. And, truth to tell, it’s not like I don’t dig up a lot of stuff. I’ve perpetually got eight or nine things hanging around waiting for me to listen to them, and it’s a rare disc at this point that I’ll listen to more than once. Still, I’ve managed to miss some pretty crushing stuff. My most recent “find” was the Deafheaven Sunbather disc from a couple of years ago. After I heard it for the first time, which was about three days ago, I was exchanging texts with a good friend of mine, and he was like, “Yeah, we talked about this in 2013. B. [another mutual friend] said these guys were the shit like four years ago.” I dunno, maybe I was drunk, but I just don’t remember this.

In any case, Sunbather is undoubtedly the most remarkable record I’ve heard in years. It combines black metal song structures and vocals with spiraling melodies that bring to mind the likes of Pelican and Russian Circles (with whom they’ve apparently toured). The drummer spends much of his time blasting for all he’s worth, but still manages to slow things down in ways that are interesting and subtle. The whole effect is very much atmospheric and, I must say, quite intoxicating. My attention was so transfixed during my first listen that I nearly crashed my car. And perhaps there is a lesson in that.

The question that I keep asking myself is: Is this black metal? I guess it’s not that important, but it is kind of intriguing for one obsessed with the boundaries of musical style such as myself. Their visual aesthetic is definitely well outside the black metal norm, and I don’t just mean the fact that they don’t wear corpse paint. Only real atavists do that these days, and that’s saying something given that the whole subculture has a fascination with atavism so large as to be visible from space. No, the thing that really makes clear the stylistic difference is that the cover of Sunbather is pink. Yes pink.

Whatever one classifies this as, this is a direction that black metal should have been smart enough to take a decade ago. The component pieces were already there. In fact one thing that this kind of reminded me of was the Shaxul and Hasjarl’s pre-Deathspell Omega project Hirilorn. In any case, I regard Sunbather as a major stylistic advance. Since its earliest days black metal has been mired in a sort of anti-aesthetic that made a fetish of ultrasimplistic structures and mild dissonance. Deafheaven’s melodies are jaw dropping and the melding of these with black metal’s dense sonic palette creates effects that are hypnotic and breathtaking.

They are slated to release a new record at the beginning of next month (New Bermuda, expected on October 2). I await in hope and expectation.

***

occultist 1I have little excuse for having failed to at least give Deafheaven a shot. Admittedly, I probably looked at a picture their album cover in Metal Maniacs and decided that it wasn’t worth my time. I feel rather less culpable for missing out on Occultist and their absolutely crushing Death Sigils, also from 2013. The fact of the matter is that Occultist have flown below a lot of people’s radar.

One reason for this is that they too have a bit of genre-defy issue, although it’s a bit less esoteric. Occultist is a band with a very metal name, a pronouncedly punk aesthetic, and a racing metal style. You can kind of see how some people on both sides of the punk/metal divide might not be able to decide whether they were fish or fowl. What they are is extremely hard rocking. Occultist’s approach is stripped down death metal, less whooshy than bands like Sacrilege or After the Bombs, which I mention because, like them, Occultist has a female singer. And oh does she howl. It was, and sadly is, kind of a rarity to see women fronting bands like this. But maybe the more it happens maybe the greater chance that people will learn how perfectly women can fill this role. Kerry Zylstra takes a back seat to absolutely no one, riding this crashing metal waves with a voice that blisters.

I commend both these records to you all. In the meantime I’m off to try and figure out what else I missed.

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