Review: Deafheaven – Roads to Judah

–By Brendan

We’re living in an age of very “un-black metal” black metal. Wolves in the throne Room meld post-rock and shoe gaze with their deep and nature-influenced flavor of black metal;  Nachtmystium plays psychedelic infused blackened rock;  and Deathspell Omega deploys a barrage of paranoia-inducing polyrthymic and disharmonious riffs.  Simply put, black metal is evolving and growing. And because of that, so too are the people listening to black metal, and therefore the people making black metal. We now have just as many pretentious ‘hipster’, “post-whatever genre” bands as we do “trve” (pronounced ‘true’) bands. As much as all those face-paint wearing, satan worshiping cvltists (pronounced ‘cultists’) would have you believe, this is not a bad thing. Case and point: Deafheaven’s Roads to Judah EP.

Deafheaven is a trve black metaller’s worst nightmare: post-hardcore aesthetics, based in San Fansisco, Wolves in the Throne Room inspired sound, all on a historically hardcore-punk label — Deathwish (though it feels like it belongs on Southern Lord). They even have a Tumblr account. For a very un-black metal person like myself, this is very exciting. I find black metal’s image to be rather boring — all that face paint and blasphemy looses it’s impact once you start growing pubic hair. And that’s where bands like this come in.

Deafheaven’s music could be described as ambient black metal. Just like the aforementioned Wolves in the Throne Room and bands like them (Skagos, Panopticon, etc.), Deafheaven employ a Burzum-meets-God Speed You! Black Emporer-sound; long songs, ambient passages, and a dark atmosphere with uplifting major chords not usually utilized in the genre. But where these bands draw their inspiration from nature and earth-based spirituality, Deafheaven’s music is more personal and human. Their lyrics are esoteric, with hidden references to San Fansisco’s transit system and unknown personal events. so whether there is an overarching “message” it’s lost in the metaphors. Euronymous is probably rolling in his grave.

While so far this sound rather “par for the course” in terms of this new wave of post-black metal bands, Deafheaven have distinguished themselves within the scene. That post-hardcore aestheitc goes beyond fashion and album art. They have a very ‘punk’ and emotional feel similar to post-hardcore (or skramz, or whatever they’re calling it now) somewhat like bands Trap Them, Coliseum, The Secret, or even Kvelertak have done, expect here it’s in a black metal form. There are moments when these elements not only blend, but shine through, creating a much more interesting listening experience than, say, anything Mayhem has put out since De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Or really any “trve” black metal release since then.

With this album, there’s two schools of thought I suppose; you either hate it or love it. There is so much different about this band and their EP that it comes down to personal preference as to whether or not you’ll like it. Beyond the aesthetics though, lies a a beautifully written and unique take on the black metal genre. Is it pretentious? Maybe. Is it ‘trve’ black metal? Not at all. Will purists hate it? Absolutely. But that’s the point. This isn’t black metal for people who like traditional black metal. It’s black metal for people who like music, and don’t care about how grim of kvlt you can be.

I recommend it to anyone looking for a breath of fresh air in the black metal scene.

Pros: Great atmosphere; the personal, and esoteric lyrics are a welcome change of pace for the genre; the music is well written, and incorporates it’s influences seemlessly; great artwork adds to the atmosphere; isn’t ‘trve’ black metal.

Cons: Only a 4 song EP; Some songs can be long, and ambient passages rough to get through if looking for a quick listen; might come off as ‘pretentious’ or ‘hipster’; not ‘trve’ black metal for those who want it.

For fans of: Wolves in the Throne Room, Panopticon, Trap Them, The Secret, Coliseum, Skagos, Nachtmystium, Wolves Like Us; God Speed You! Black Emporer.

Roads to Judas was released on April 26th, 2011, via Deathwish Records. You can order it here.
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