Roads to pretty metal

Deafheaven brings critically-acclaimed wall of sound to Cincinnati

By Gary Spencer
Photo: Deafheaven performs at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati on Feb. 19

If you spent any time scouring the year end Best of 2013 lists of both critics and fans, you’ve probably heard of the band Deafheaven. Their sophomore full-length record, Sunbather, was an instant smash, receiving high marks from an array of music publications and websites. Metacritic, Decibel and NPR all had Sunbather as one of their best of the year. It was even named the No. 1 metal album of the year by Spin, Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. All of this praise within the past year has caught the band very much off guard.“I was surprised,” said Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke. “After we completed the record, we were happy with it and felt excited about it, but [we] didn’t imagine the praise it ended up receiving. It’s a very unique opportunity to be embraced like that. We’re grateful about the whole thing and we appreciate it.”Indeed, Deafheaven has received more than its fair share of accolades in the relatively short amount of time of the band’s existence. Clarke and Deafheaven guitarist Kerry McCoy formed the band in San Francisco in 2010. The band was quickly in demand for live shows on the strength of its first demo, and within less than a year was signed to Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon’s hardcore punk label Deathwish Inc. The following year, Deafheaven unleashed its debut album, Roads to Judah, a bleak, epic journey of blast beats, echo-soaked guitar chords and George Clarke’s spine-tingling, throaty screams, all punctuated by moments of unexpected sonic and melodic beauty amid the black metal soaked chaos. The album was greeted with rave reviews and soon the band grew from studio project to a full-fledged touring band. During this time the band began work on Sunbather. According to Clarke, writing the new record was no cakewalk.

“The writing time was stressful and hectic,” Clarke said. “I was proud we were able to get through it and finally see its release.”

If the songwriting process was hurried and uncomfortable, it certainly doesn’t show within the grooves of Deafheaven’s most recent platter. Sunbather, released in mid-2013, takes the band’s black metal influences and turns them inside out. Instead of songs shrouded in darkness and despair, the songs on Sunbather uses the frenzied, tremolo-picked melodies and guitar work as a beacon of uplift and light with an airy sonic atmosphere that recalls early ’90s British shoegazer rock. Clarke confirmed this marriage of dreamy shoegaze aesthetics and harsh black metal execution was no accident.

“[Shoegaze and metal] were definitely something we wanted to incorporate and just had to take the time to figure out how the two styles complement each other song to song,” Clarke said. “[We’re] influenced by shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Chapterhouse. On the metal side, we incorporate everything from Metallica to Morbid Angel to Burzum and French black metal.”

Deafheaven’s enthralling, forward-thinking take on black metal has not only won over journalists, but fans across the U.S. and all around the world. Only three years into the band’s career, Deafheaven has played all over North America and has even brought its wall of sound live show to Australia, Russia and Japan. Their live shows, too, have brought the band many rave reviews as the tour offers continue to pour in. Clarke said the band is eager to take Deafheaven everywhere there is an audience for them.

“We get approached frequently about going to do tours,” Clarke said. “It’s all about logistics and making it work under the best circumstances. I’d love to go play South America, China, South America, Tel Aviv […] there’s lots of places we can go.”

With a new full touring band in tow, Clarke also said they’ve got their concert routine down to a science, so they can easily replicate their stunning array of guitar sounds and atmospherics just as well – if not better than – their studio recordings display them.

“We’ve gotten pretty good at reproducing the record and showcasing it in a cool way live,” Clarke said. “Our shows are pretty loud and we keep it true. In general, it’s just more intense.”

With success, however, Deafheaven has encountered some negativity and backlash against the sudden popularity. The band has occasionally been slapped with tags such as “indie black metal” or “hipster black metal.” Despite such labeling, Clarke isn’t too concerned.

“People will call it what they want to,” Clarke said. “You could call it ‘pretty metal.’ Sometimes people don’t want to like something just to go against the wave of praise. They nitpick and find things they don’t like about it. Tags like that are often brought about on things not related to music. I don’t have time for that.”

Despite the criticism, the members of Deafheaven seem happy they attract not just metalheads, but a diverse collection of listeners to their records and live performances.

“It’s a pretty eclectic audience,” Clarke said. “A lot of people who are into heavy music come to our shows. But the cool thing is we also get people who don’t look necessarily like they follow heavy music but want to try it out with us and we’re happy to have them.”


Deafheaven will perform Wednesday, Feb.  19, at the Taft Theatre, 317 E. 5th St. in Cincinnati. Also on the bill is Mala in Se. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance. For more information, please visit 


 Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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