There’s something deliciously ironic in the fact that a blisteringly hot summer such as this one should serve as a portal for bone-chillingly cold black metal in the form of a new Deafheaven LP. But yea verily, the underworld doth cackle at the fittingness of said album launching on Friday the 13th. Swirling within this nebula of polar opposites and apposite poetics is the culmination of Deafheaven’s development, an album whose cohesion and strange sonic palette shows the world they are more energetically themselves than ever.

Image result for deafheaven ordinary corrupt human love

To date, Deafheaven have released three full-lengths: Roads to Judah (2011), Sunbather (2013), and New Bermuda (2015), each a maelstrom of frostbitten fury tempered with gorgeous post-rock flourishes. Aching strains of delay-drenched guitar reminiscent of old Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky served not as trendy, insubstantial swipes at eclecticism but as stained glass and censers to the music’s sepulchral structure, providing key entryways for filtered light to become visible and penetrate the darkness. Their new album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, builds off of prior successes and achieves something thrillingly new.

Having said that, ignore the jejeune comparisons that are all too frequently strewn about: “They’re like Billy Duffy from The Cult doing a side project with Varg Vikernes and My Bloody Valentine…” “Imagine Slowdive genetically engineered a Jurassic World-dinosaur with DNA from Darkthrone and Slayer and taught it to read Rimbaud…”

No. For one thing, most of these genealogical thought experiments are concocted by critics who usually have never listened to Burzum or Darkthrone et al. until they felt forced to in order to assert how Deafheaven is superior to all of their forebears. (In general, don’t ask someone who has never listened appreciatively to a specific genre of music before why one band in that tradition stands out from others—they don’t even know, but that crucial credential won’t stop them from arguing.) And for one another, they’re better than any of that. Kevin Shields, all tremolo bar wriggling brilliance aside, is far past apprenticing himself to a new musical vocabulary this devilish. And Varg can do about one thing well and the last time he did that was nigh twenty years ago. (There’s also the fact that he’s literally a fascist, Odin-worshiping murderer, but I digress.) And unlike many of the aforementioned bands, Deafheaven are noteworthy at least for having done nothing simply by rote thus far, a somewhat remarkable fact given the style of music they’ve found themselves drawn to inhabit.

Image result for deafheaven

Black metal, at its best, is less about pulverizing the listener (and imagined foes) and more about contemplation, albeit of an incredibly idiosyncratic sort.

<<I already know some metal fundamentalist is scoffing at this very moment and reading that sentence to another kvltist clad in a Deathspell Omega long-sleeve shirt and mentally preparing another incendiary Reddit post on how false both Deafheaven and I am. I can live with it.>>

But even early Burzum and Emperor demonstrated this. Some of the finest American black metal has capitalized on this element to immense effect: Xasthur comes immediately to mind. But Deafheaven achieve something I think is unparalleled in this tradition through the oxymoronic vulnerability that informs their craft. Some of their best moments arise as a shoegaze-derived chamber pop collides with larynx-shredding vocals. The conjunction of the two delivers deep-seated sonic upset by emphasizing the wholly alien divide between the sonorous and the ghastly. Situating the misshapen within diatonic wholeness recasts the frame and everything within it, and by some arcane aural alchemy makes present to us the alienation and yearning that birthed the songs.

To be sure, at times the polarity collapses into withering wintriness, and Schrodinger’s Deafheaven coalesces into the black metal beast it is, shrieking furiously at the injustice of having ever been born. But almost as often, the contradiction stands, and rather than one negating the other, a plaintive stream of zero point energy glimmers into existence and illuminates the void. These precipitous heights are just as likely to dissolve into idyllic pastures of pop as they are to careen back into howling blizzard onslaughts; for the first time, in fact, Deafheaven seem as eager to lull the listener with almost embarrassingly earnest dreamscapes of effervescent hooks as they are to dissolve the listener’s sense of well-being.

Image result for is this meme is this black metal

The album opens with “You Without End,” a near ballad with no appreciable metal moments apart from George Clarke’s occasional screamed vocals. But even then, his impressionistic lyrics have been honed and trimmed of excess, envisioning vistas of a smaller sort, intimate close-ups that open avenues towards the macrocosm. “You Without End” is unusual for Deafheaven in that the quieter and more beautiful portions do not serve as segues for something more brutal to follow. Instead, they are the song, and we are spellbound as the band takes its signature aesthetic and morphs it to become something entirely new.

The momentum picks up and never relents even as the band negotiates several dynamic and tonal shifts, most especially on the third track, “Canary Yellow,” which hurtles from extremity to restraint and back again while holding the listener’s rapt attention for an astounding twelve minutes. At no point does it or the preceding song, “Honeycomb,” feel disjointed or directionless. Instead, there is an intuitive recognition that yes, these movements all organically belong together; moment by moment each riff, each note grows out of what came before and carries the song to proper resolution. The songs are unpredictable but never feel hastily assembled or illegitimately extended to prove something.

“Glint,” the album’s midpoint, is in many ways its highest peak. Unabashedly melodic guitar glides beneath piercing, raspy vocals that twist and cavort through many permutations of sad, longing ecstasy even while blast beating like there’s no tomorrow. The album closes with “Worthless Animal,” an infectiously anthemic yet brooding piece that keeps metal aggression at bay and simply clutches the contradictions together as tightly as possible and forces the listener to dwell within the collision.

Image result for Deafheaven

All that being said, there is an alarming amount of rock and roll on Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, so much so, one wonders if there is a challenge coiled within the echoes of Thin Lizzy and Collective Soul that punctuate the tremolo washes of cacophony. Is that a swagger suddenly blooming like a weed in my Deafheaven? I’m not so sure—it sounds more like a band with the conviction that certain riffs simply must be heard in this sequence and this ostentatiously or else the song isn’t worth recording.

The abrupt seismic shifts into 90s arena rock taunt detractors and fairweather fans alike. Any band can repeat ad nauseam that they don’t care how well or if they even fit into existing scenes or obey the dictates of their fractional subgenre. Such posturing, however genuine it may be, surrenders too much to the antagonistic critic by permitting her to set the terms. Instead of fortifying their position, Deafheaven opt to roll out and trample naysayers under their treads. Their confidence doesn’t have to be explained: it’s on full, glorious display as they unleash themselves. And it sets them apart from other bands who aim for “transcendence” in their music.

There is something coarse and earthy to this unabashed rock in Ordinary Corrupt Human Love that keeps Deafheaven planted on Earth. Walker Percy’s concerns about what he dubbed “angelism,” the drive to leave humanity behind and live “orbitally” and disembodied as the angels do, are a real danger for many bands who follow in the wake of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who treat formlessness and ineffability as the highest heights to reach. But the high places are exactly what God warned Israel against. Deafheaven does make moves into the stratosphere periodically but this new emphasis on sheer rock riffery provides an angle for re-entry that preserves their humanity and shunts us away from the idolatry of the sublime.

The melancholy within this style is the key. And yet there is something exhilarating about it whenever Deafheaven turn on their amps. Exhilaration isn’t a feeling provoked by conventional black metal—it can be exciting, certainly, riding the currents of sheer misanthropic aggression—but Deafheaven’s is a well-defined and self-directed misanthropy, the sort of catharsis-inducing honesty with self that takes darkness and ugliness and utilizes them with such focus and conviction that their opposites emerge from the chaos. Life out of death, light out of darkness, love out of hate. Cliches all, I know, but Deafheaven’s sheer earnestness delivers the reality.

In the Nightside Eclipse and Transilvanian Hunger are great, and I really mean that, but the emotional investment I can place in them is limited to the haphazardly inspired resonance of those records’ mournful melodies. There is a spaciousness to Ordinary Corrupt Human Love that encompasses the gamut of what being human feels like: from the honest melodrama of T. Rex-style rock to existential weightlessness all the way to the kenotic bliss of standing above a canyon and shouting, “I suck!”

Of course, the strongest emphasis surely lies with disappointment and fear. Clarke’s lyrics touch on loss and loneliness and the perpetual coming-up-short that structures our lives, but his delivery of those lyrics when accompanied by Kerry McCoy’s heroic guitar recast those fears as sketches of new possibilities, as objects of hope rather than despair. I hate to generalize, but the fact of the matter is that haunted Nordic woods are often simply not as scary as our days and weeks here, seasons haunted by our shadow selves, by the entire composite of enacted evil and callous inaction our lives represent. The history of my failures and malcontent frighten me more, on most days, than the fantastic imagery of most black metal bands.

And look: you can tell me you feel mostly pretty satisfied with your life’s quotient of decisions and the outcome of your years of forking paths, but I’m not sure I’ll believe you. I know I sure as hell am not. And anytime I encounter an even partially reflective surface I find reflected back to me all the godlessness I wish I no longer was. Who knows? Maybe some of the most effective reflective surfaces can be streamed or played on a turntable. And if that’s the case, Deafheaven may be another mirror in which God shows us what we are, to summon into existence its opposite. If the harsh, overdriven sounds of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love are meant to mirror the greatness and the disappointment of the reality of its title, then maybe there’s something to a band like this inviting us to consider:

And then the world will know
Will know of you
Of all things love
Of all things true

Grandiose? Perhaps. But maybe Heaven is quicker to listen than we have allowed ourselves to believe. May we learn to sit still in the present darkness and await the in-breaking of the light.