If volume is your only musical qualifier, then there is probably only one band on your best of 2013 list. San Francisco metal duo Deafheaven dropped Sunbather last month, a seven track sonic masterpiece that relentlessly pulls at your heartstrings and threatens hearing damage for 60 minutes. The album’s opener “Dream House” has been universally declared one of the year’s best, as it expertly mixes black metal shape with post rock size and shoegaze atmosphere. The rest of the album continues in suit, taking you on an emotional roller coaster of brilliant architecture. But there’s always the question of “Can they pull it all off live?”, and with the size and undertaking of Sunbather, it wasn’t an unfair one to ask. But rest assured, Deafheaven’s live show only serves to further exercise the massive, beautiful power this band has created, and it now comes pretty damned close to the top of my list for best show of the year. With LA experimental rock group Marriages to open, Deafheaven gave us a night of blood, sweat and wonder to remember for weeks to come.
Marriages were a great pick for tourmates on this leg of Deafheaven’s support for Sunbather. The group, featuring Emma Ruth Rundle and Greg Burns of Red Sparowes, has been around for a couple years now. Through their ties to other great offerings of LA post rock and experimental rock, the band has some solid songwriting chops and is steadily building live potential. Marriages’ set pulled a lot from their 2012 record, Kitsune, balancing heavy atmosphere and dark landscape with great interplay between guitar, bass, and vocals. In particular, the Kitsune closer “Part The Dark Again” kicked ass and had much of the crowd enthralled, regardless of their prior knowledge of the group.
Deafheaven had only one real priority for their Seattle show: sonic domination. From the first rip of Kerry McCoy’s shimmering guitar intro “Dreamhouse” to George Clarke’s final howl on “The Pecan Tree”, the set was pure, unadulterated face-melting glory. The stage was dark, and nothing on it was particularly showy, but visuals weren’t exactly the priority for anyone in the room, band or crowd. Clarke’s work as a frontman captured all necessary attention, moving across the stage this way and that, dragging his microphone stand in dark-gloved hands, screaming his face off. Luckily for the crowd, he shared plenty of vocals with fans, embracing several in the front and screaming in blood-thirsty vitality directly into their eyes, only (at the very most) inches away. Behind him, the band threw down. McCoy’s guitars were only ever more brilliant with the ear-splitting level of volume.
Deafheaven’s set (encore included) was six songs. From Sunbather, they pulled “Dream House”, “Irresistible”, the title track, and “The Pecan Tree”, and from Roads to Judah, “Unrequited” and “Violet” as the closer. But with average track length at about 11 minutes, love and attachment to individual songs melted in a blaze of glory and the crowd really became one with the band’s signature brilliance. Here, in the live setting, it becomes most obvious that Deafheaven’s genius isn’t found in conquering never before seen territory or playing the most ungodly guitar riff you’ve ever heard. Rather, their synthesis of size and emotion is unequivocal - it’s a post rock show you can interact with by screaming along and taking a kick to the face from the high schooler who just stage dived without warning. Deafheaven have helmed a tear-jerking hardcore that you really only feel the full extent of in the live setting. That being said, next time they come around, you seriously don’t want to miss it.