by Jillian Fliedner
Deafheaven has been labeled as a “hipster” metal band ever since the release of their debut album Sunbather. Pitchfork’s obsession with them changed the way a lot of “real” metal fans viewed the band, but despite this label, this post-black metal band from San Francisco played to a crowd of diverse and typical metalheads at Fête Ballroom in Providence, RI.
The real beauty behind Deafheaven is their unique addition to metal, bringing something new to subgenres with a common sound and lyrical imagery. If you’re a metal fan, you’ll recognize that the usual behavior of metal bands is long hair and angry lyrics. Especially in the subgenre of black metal, there is a large focus on anti-religious lyrics and imagery, building on the trash undertones of the genre. Deafheaven defies this stereotype, and has brought something unique and interesting to the table, and their performance reflects this. Each of their seven songs on their setlist had an unmatched ferocity, supported by singer George Clarke, who played conductor for not only the rest of the band, but the audience too. The remaining members were on stand-by, giving George the room to walk about and interact.
Opening with “Brought to the Water” off their most recent EP, New Bermuda, the band possessed a very balanced intensity that matches their music. Dressed in all black, including his usual atypical choice of black dress shoes and wet hair, George engaged the crowd while impressing everyone with his vocals and passion for his music, shown through his onstage presence. Every headbang and hand motion of his was perfectly and impressively timed with the music. Even though George was energetic, I can’t say the same for the rest of the band. While George was taking full advantage of the platform, the rest of the members stuck to their instrument areas onstage. Granted, if the whole band was on the same level as George in terms of intensity, the quality of their performance might have been diluted.
Moving onto the older track “From Kettle Onto the Coil”, a heavier and less melodic track than the previous, the crowd really seemed to warm up to the band. You could see that for some fans, seeing Deafheaven live was a very therapeutic and, in a way, religious experience. Black metal lyrics tend to have themes of anti-religious, mythology, anger, and the occasional bout of depression, and there’s usually not a real beauty to them, but Deafheaven is one of the exceptions to this norm, with beautiful imagery about living, dying, and loving. This imagery was felt through the fans and the strong powered movements from George. They banged their heads and cheered as George moved wildly about the stage.
Lyrics like these allow for many melodic moments, something present in all their songs. Their most known song “Dreamhouse” is the highlight of this. The twelve-minute track is filled with the usual heaviness of any black metal song, while also maintaining a melancholy beauty. Leading into the melodic climax of the song, a sort of appreciation washed over the audience for how beautiful and intense Deafheaven was during their performance. As George screams, “I want to dream”, referencing death, the band shows their true character and tone.
After “Dreamhouse” came the instrumental song “Irresistible”, allowing for a pause from the chaos of the set. In my opinion, few bands can really pull off having an instrumental in the middle of their set, but with a band like Deafheaven, it makes perfect sense. Their music has such a massive amount of emotion to it that requires a moment of pure calmness, and “Irresistible” is that perfectly placed moment. With two more songs left, “Sunbather” and “Unrequited”, Deafheaven continued to bring their best with alluring moments of disarray and gracefulness, while maintaining great energy throughout the night. Despite some of the hatred they often receive from the metal scene by being invited to play at mainstream festivals like Coachella, Deafheaven is a breath of fresh air in what can often be a stale and slow genre at times. Their performance at Fête reminded me and the crowd of this, giving me a new and stronger appreciation for the band.