Deafheaven, Gorilla, Manchester, UK, August 16th 2014
San Francisco metal giants Deafheaven are so talented it's actually terrifying. Their epic 2013 record Sunbather is a genre-defying, hour-long mixture of black metal, shoe gaze and spoken word moments, all wrapped up in George Clarke's retched vocals. It's an album that has entered various 'album of the year' charts in high positions, and not just within the metal community. It's a more than worthy follow-up to 2011's Roads To Judah and if you've not heard it yet, you're missing a trick.
Supported for this tour by the incredible Chelsea Wolfe (who I shall review separately), Deafheaven has made it their mission to get up close and personal with their fans on the tour, meaning no barriers, meaning fans can interact with the band members and fully immerse themselves in this album as a live experience.
George Clarke approaches the stage and takes up a position front and centre, gripping the microphone and assuming something approximating a war stance, glaring at the audience as if daring them to come forward. And come forward they do. Opener Dream House, the first track off Sunbather, begins in a blaze of distortion and yelling fans, all of them scrambling to be right at the front. Clarke screeches the opening lyrics and the insanity begins on the floor, kids shoving and pressing together to try and be a part of the song. There's a quiet moment about halfway through the track, in which George Clarke stage dives for a bit and then stands staring at the floor before motioning for the crowd to approach the stage once more as the song reaches it's climax and every single kid at the show tries to grab Clarke and scream the final set of lyrics back at him.
The crowd is covered in sweat already, and so are all grateful for the band to play Irresistible next, a three-minute beautiful piece of instrumentation which calms everyone down slightly as they gaze at George Clarke and the rest of the band, Clarke not even looking at the crowd, just leaning on the microphone stand and preparing himself for the next song. And so Sunbather begins. This track is eleven minutes of black metal beauty, the guitar work hypnotic and forceful, the lyrics screeched on top, poured over the instruments like liquid gold. Clarke stands in front of his captive audience like a messiah, reaching his hands out for people to grasp, stage diving as he screams and finally just falling into the audience, grabbing one man by the neck and offering him the microphone, touching their heads together, their sweat and breath mingling as they scream.
The next track is the new one they have been hinting at since June, an excellent meld of haunting guitar-playing and tortured vocals that lasts a mere eight minutes by my count. They then dive into the final track, The Pecan Tree, which showcases their drummer's excellent command of blast-beat styles while also showing off a beautiful middle section of clean guitars and piano melodies before Clarke comes crashing back in with the final lyrics: 'I am my father's son. I am no one. I cannot love. It's in my blood.' On the record this final lyrical part lasts for just over three minutes, but as part of the live show, Clarke keeps it going for at least twice that, surrendering the microphone and motioning everyone still closer to the stage.
The band leaves and the lights go down, but no one's moving. The atmosphere is electric. They then come back onstage and do one final track, and George Clarke dedicates the set to Chelsea Wolfe and all the people who have supported Deafheaven throughout the last year while they've been on the road for this record. The show is over, and it's been like a religious experience. I cannot urge you enough: go out and see this band live and listen to their music. You will thank me.
The Pecan Tree