Deafheaven: Infinite Granite (Sargent House) - review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, December 7th, 2021  

Deafheaven

Infinite Granite

Sargent House

Aug 20, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


It’s true that Infinite Granite, the fifth album from San Francisco’s Deafheaven, marks a sharp sonic left-turn for the band, but this has been on the cards for a while. When last we heard from them three years ago, the quintet were busy sprucing up the sound for which they had become known; Ordinary Corrupt Human Love found them railing against preconceived notions of what the band was or should be—albeit with its signature blackgaze attack present and correct—and seemed transitional in nature, raising as many questions as it answered. So: new decade, new label… new direction? Well, not quite; for as much as previous efforts put the focus on the throat-shredding roars of George Clarke, and the urgent blast beats of drummer Daniel Tracy, beauty has been a part of their music just as much as bleakness; both felt and expressed as deeply as each other.

This time around, it’s the driving force of their latest offering, often provided by the dual guitar heft of Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra. Clarke has also switched to clean vocals, for the most part, which will come as a shock to those who dive into opening track “Shellstar” expecting his usual approach. His new style suggests a softer approach across the board; the opener builds to a peak around three-and-a-half minutes in, which rubbishes that suggestion. It’s more accessible as a point of fact, but the five-piece was operating within a pop framework at times on their 2013 breakout Sunbather, so it’s not as though this is new territory for them. Back then, Clarke’s vocals required power behind them; it has simply been diverted elsewhere to create something bright in composition and spacious in approach, yet no less forceful in execution.

“Great Mass of Color” is suitably melancholic, providing a prime example of the band’s shift in sound, anchored by Christopher Johnson’s punchy bass lines as the tension-and-release exchange between verse and chorus becomes gradually more imposing, before listeners are gifted a reminder that this is indeed the band they once knew. The song cuts loose and familiar shrieks from Clarke swirl in the background as it races toward its conclusion; in a curious reversal of roles, the lead vocalist’s old delivery now provides the texture and color it would previously have sought from McCoy, Mehra, and Johnson. Clarke doesn’t fall back on that howl as a crutch, to provide a sense of familiarity; instead, he only employs it in service of the song. If Clarke’s harsh vocals were a sticking point in the past, they’re an additional instrument here, sparingly deployed for maximum impact; hence, this song serves as an ideal introduction for new listeners.

“Great Mass of Color” bleeds into “Neptune Raining Diamonds,” a disarmingly pretty, synth-driven instrumental that is impressive on its own but absolutely wonderful in context. (More on that later.) Coming out the other side, the seven-minute “Lament for Wasps” starts out in almost dream-pop territory. It’s certainly the softest the band’s ever sounded, but there’s an insistent groove behind it all, provided in the main by Tracy’s drumming. The speed and ferocity he brought to the band on previous records is here when called upon—as the last minute or so of that song indicates, bursting into a particularly psychedelic spin on the Deafheaven of old, replete with juddering double-bass patterns from Tracy—but there’s creativity expressed throughout that the rest of the band can feed off of.

That collaborative spirit defines their newest material, and the creative friction between each individual member means that Deafheaven collectively pushes itself harder than before; these five are not ones to coast on former glories, we know this since they followed Sunbather with the harrowing, oppressive, and beautifully bleak New Bermuda. The quintet push themselves hardest of all on closing track “Mombasa,” whose gentle beginnings and steady, swaying waltz-time feel come completely out of left-field even on an album that seeks to redraw the Deafheaven blueprint. Then Clarke starts to sing—an oddly familiar melody that it turns out is a reshaping of the melody line from “Neptune Raining Diamonds” (in a different key and time signature)—and the song starts its gradual build toward one of the best damn moments in the band’s entire catalogue as, around the five-and-a-half minute mark, the floodgates open and the quintet let loose. Blast beats, shrieks, growls, and call-and-response guitar harmonies abound as the song ascends ever higher. “Spine-tingling” isn’t the half of it; even as it crashes to an abrupt halt, you’ll still be amazed.

A decade on from introducing themselves with Roads to Judah, Deafheaven has transformed into a staggeringly ambitious and multi-faceted band. The signs were there on Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, but the band’s reinvention has been pulled off with aplomb. There’s enough of its old sound present across Infinite Granite to put paid to the idea that the band is now unrecognizable in the name of artistic growth. Clarke’s vocals aside—and that shift will of course be the first thing long-time listeners notice—the band isn’t interested in repeating itself and never has been. As before, there will probably be talk about what this band is, or should be; what genre conventions it fits into, and so on—it’s shown that it doesn’t care about any of that, and this album is a riposte to the doubters as Deafheaven morphs once again, into quite possibly the best version of itself. (www.deafheaven.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10



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