We’ve heard it all before “the perfect summer album,” “sounds like a great day at the beach!” The Black Metal genre has not typically produced anything of the like– until now. Summer music is often described as “light,” “breezy,” and “fun,” however more akin to a summer that humans can relate to; Deafheaven’s new album Sunbather is heavy, sprawling, and emotional. While Black Metal may focus on cold, ugliness, and evil, Sunbather invokes feelings of warmth, beauty, and joy. With Sunbather, Deafheaven shows the world that even Black Metal has room for dynamics as opposite as fire and ice.
Sunbather takes influence from a variety of genres, from the abrasive playing style of Black Metal, to the hidden hooks of Shoegaze, and the dynamics and pure visceral ecstacy of Post-Rock. The common thread between all its various influences is the importance of atmosphere. Tremolo-picked Black Metal guitar leads run through Shoegaze effects, and quiet, slower sections break the monotony of blastbeats. For listeners unable to see the appeal of screamed vocals in metal music, this album may find success at increasing tolerance. While not an instrumental album by any means, Sunbather takes a shared cue from both Black Metal and Shoegaze and uses vocals not as a focal point, but as another layer of musical texture. Seamlessly transitioning through four epic compositions (each stands at over 9 minutes long) separated by three less-structured interludes, this album does not ask you to pick and choose your favorite songs or riffs, but instead invites you to let its warm, cathartic atmosphere wash over you as you listen.
Despite the relatively fluid nature of its structure, Sunbather has plenty of musical moments that stick out. The lead track “Dreamhouse” opens with guitar melodies that qualify as true earworms, and the outro to the last track, “The Pecan Tree” stands as one of the heaviest parts of the record, despite eschewing the blast beats and fast tempos that hallmark the album’s most metal moments. Similarly, the most affecting moments of the album are when songwriters George Clarke and Kerry McCoy combine their diverse influences in unexpected ways – See the screaming in the background of the melodic, drumless break partway through “Vertigo,” or the double-kick drumming that inserts itself into a down-tempo, Shoegaze-y section of “The Pecan Tree.” Sunbather is at its best when it tosses the unexpected at a spaced-out listener.
Vocalist George Clarke says Sunbather’s album cover is meant to evoke the sensation of staring into the sun with your eyes closed, and that the name “Sunbather” was chosen for its sense of idealism and humanity. This feeling is not only accurate, but also extends far beyond the cover. Warm and inviting, relaxed and unhurried, contemplative yet joyous, with Sunbather, Deafheaven’s latest release is rewriting the rules for both Black Metal and “the perfect summer album.”