San Francisco black metal-meets-post rock group Deafheaven became a buzz band of metal after the release of Sunbather last year, a dense record with an atmosphere of detachment throughout. While thematic records and bringing out the piano for segue tracks isn’t all that innovative for metal bands, with careful songwriting they seem to effortlessly go from shredding with the best of ‘em to swelling climaxes as euphoric as Explosions in the Sky.
It’s an approach that has gotten the attention from more than the typical headbanging crowd.
Their latest single “From the Kettle Onto the Coil” is about as straight-up metal as these guys get, singer George Clarke saying it came from a sense of excitement that the current lineup would be recording together for the first time.
“We went through rough times with members, but these guys have been so good. They’re excellent players, we have an idea of what our goals are, and we all get along really well, which is the most important thing. We’re all really good friends,” says George.
“That song came together really quick. It was mostly used to just have fun recording together.”
On Sunbather Clarke’s voice has a distant quality to it, but on this single it’s front-and-centre. He says it’s because he’s more comfortable than ever with his voice.
“I’ve always pushed myself to see how strong my voice is. When you take a year between recordings and all you’ve been doing is using that muscle for months on end it comes naturally. It’s a matter of control,” he says.
“I kind of have it easy, but Dan [Tracy] our drummer he has to always keep himself in shape. A 30-day tour can start to stress your body out, and we’ve been pushing 50-60 dates.”
They’ve spent most of the year touring, as the band becomes more than just George and guitarist Kerry McCoy. Bassist Stephen Clark and guitarist Shiv Mehra have now been in the band for over a year, George saying everyone’s taking part in shaping the band’s heaviness.
“You never really know until there is a big piece there to look at,” says George of new material. “But we’re all on the same page. It’ll be cool. It’ll definitely be different, and I want it to be different. I think it will sound like Deafheaven but it will sound bigger.”
Without staying within genre lines, George says there are two elements needed for an idea to make it into a Deafheaven song.
“It has to sound good. I think everyone in my band has a good taste in music, or I at least trust their taste in music” he says. “Secondly, it has to transition well. When you are attempting to flow between different genres the main thing you should be concerned with in songwriting is transitions, because otherwise a 15-minute song will feel like a 15-minute song.”
“We’re pretty open-minded to new ideas and new experiments,” he says.
The band looks to black metal when it comes to threading together their lengthy material.
“Bands like Weakling, Agalloch, Burzum, or Coldworld, there’s a million of these black metal bands that do long songs well. They do it because they transition well and the material’s there. And I really like the hypnotic element. I think you can get lost in a song. My first attraction the the atmospheric side is that trance, [where] all of a sudden a 13-minute song’s done.”
It’s the combination of that influence and Kerry’s love of Godspeed post rock which leads to the foundation of their sound. It’s also lead to tours with acts as varied as Between the Buried and Me and Chelsea Wolfe.
“A loud show, that’s what I look for, whether they’re on the indie side or the metal side,” says George. “I like that power.”
Deafheaven play Bar le “Ritz” PDB September 20 with No Joy and Indian Handcrafts.