Deafheaven’s ubiquity within black metal is certainly something that’s unique to them. Of course, a single act torn between acclaim and vilification is nothing new, especially in this genre, but few have found as much prominence as this, towing the line between being heralded as bold genre pioneers with their fusion of black metal and shoegaze, and contempt from purists believing this to be a few steps too far into outright commercialisation. Especially with the critical adulation awarded to 2013’s Sunbather – both from metal critics and otherwise – the disparity between opinions on Deafheaven was widened ever further; they were either leading a bold new movement by pushing blackgaze as a legitimate subgenre, or establishing themselves as the “normie” black metal band to be avoided at all costs.
It’s not as if Deafheaven really care though, as evidenced by Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, an album fixated on the primal, animalistic feelings of being in love while pushing forward in the most melodic, almost indie-influenced direction to date. And like the band themselves, this is an album comprised of two distinct halves that work to varying degrees. On one hand, this is musically some of Deafheaven’s most expansive, lush material to date, pairing their two extremes in typically excellent fashion and absolutely nailing that blend that they helped form. But then again, it’s also a slightly disjointed listen, more focused on the size and breadth of its compositions than making them fit together as a whole. Ultimately, that might be something of a peripheral flaw than anything that directly affects the album overall, but considering the lengths that Deafheaven go to emphasise how much of a huge, grand movement this is supposed to be, even the smallest lack of cohesion can see some fairly important threads begin to unravel.
And while that is a pretty noticeable issue, it doesn’t stop Ordinary Corrupt Human Love from surging forward with the power that Deafheaven have typically made so discernible, be that in George Clarke’s muffled howls on a track like Canary Yellow that work part and parcel with the smooth transitions from burning tremolo riffs to bright, delicate atmosphere, or how surprisingly clean and burnished it can all feel, like the staggering buildup of You Without End that sounds utterly enormous with its twinkling pianos and solos, or the more delicate Night People, where Clarke and Chelsea Wolfe play off the temperance in each other’s vocals perfectly. Even if overall cohesion can be a bit sparing, Deafheaven more than make up with it in their individual pieces, and by frequently crossing the ten-minute mark, there’s plenty of room for the band to expand their reach and play with even more layers of sound. It’s still an impressively powerful and foreboding listen, channeling those themes of carnal lust and almost melding them with the size of everything else, allowing it all to surge forward and doing so in a truly enveloping way.
The fact that Ordinary Corrupt Human Love can pull all that off and still stand as a weaker Deafheaven album is a testament to what this band are capable of, and how much of an effect their blackened shoegaze actually has. Sure, next to Sunbather this really does pale in comparison, particularly as an entire body of work, but there’s still so much to dissect and soak in here, and it remains an enormous feat in its own right. With albums like this, it’s little wonder Deafheaven are black metal’s conduit of choice into bigger and brighter things.
For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Møl, Liturgy
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ by Deafheaven is out now on ANTI- Records.