Deafheaven at Turner Hall: A Review

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Photo courtesy of Kelsea McCulloch / Pabst Theater Group

I read the other day that Deafheaven has faced grief over the vocalist being too attractive. Ok, I kind of get it. George Clarke–save some beauty for the rest of us, please? This criticism, among many other ones Deafheaven has faced from metal “purists,” is the reason the metal scene in general sometimes turns me off. The instinct to bash someone for doing something different seems like a disservice, right? The mere concept of “genre-bending” sends some contrarians haywire, and Deafheaven’s blatant black metal roots but nuanced instrumental, shoegaze-y, and even straight orchestral bits tempt the critics. Deafheaven, you DO do it differently. Please continue.

What better way to ring in spring than with a good old-fashioned metal show? The experimental black metal band (that’s what I’m going to call them) from San Francisco played at Turner Hall on Sunday, March 19. They proceeded This Will Destroy You and Emma Ruth Rundle, two artists that nicely set the tone for Deafheaven’s shapeshifting sound. They played a wide range of songs from their two full-length albums, as well as Roads to Judah out in 2011. They opened with Brought to the Water off New Bermuda, one of my favorite tracks that begins with eerie church bells.

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Photo courtesy of Kelsea McCulloch / Pabst Theater Group

Deafheaven is metal. I say this as someone whose last metal show was Mayhem. The most profound thing about this band and their performance was perhaps its effortlessness. In a sense, I think metal can get convoluted admit theatrics and pressures of being “hard” and “shocking.” To me, Deafheaven almost purifies the genre in a refreshing package that breaks the stereotypes. It’s not about making metal easier or more accessible necessarily, but to humanize it in a way that’s true to its essence with raw, brutal (and quite poetic) lyrics, soul-shaking vocals and prop-less, unapologetic sincerity. In a sense, seeing them reaffirmed my love with genre, because it reminded me of black metal’s intensity and honesty toward life that I first fell for.

Before the show ended, George hinted that a new album is on its way. Following the evolution of these guys will continue to be a personal joy of mine. I hope that anyone who hasn’t given Deafheaven a solid shot yet does, because I do think there’s significance beyond just incredible music. Someone once told me that seeing them live was “beautiful,” and I will gladly vouch for that now.

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