Concert review: Deafheaven

San Francisco's black metal shoegazers Deafheaven perform at DC9 in Washington DC.

VIENNA, Va., April, 5, 2012—For some, Deafheaven would seem like an appropriate name for the San Francisco band.  The band was content on bludgeoning the audience of DC9 into submission, hammering them with growling vocals and chugging, dense guitar work.  Deafheaven put on an unrelenting set.

The bands that play at DC9 tend to be band that cut back on the elaborate stage designs and focus solely on the music.  The harder the band is, the more true this tends to be.  It’s not that they don’t interact with the crowd it’s just a greater focus the music rather than extraneous details surrounding the show, which plays into DC9’s more intimate setting.  For a band like Deafheaven, this fits them like a glove.

A band like Deafheaven almost assuredly will have a niche audience. They don’t forsake a larger mass appeal, but it’s just not something they expect when they mix styles and genres that don’t have large appeal in the U.S. as it is.  The net that they cast isn’t wide, but the intensity they play with engenders a longer and more dedicated following.

Deafheaven play a mixture of grindcore and black metal with the mentality of a shoegazer band.  They put a lot of concentration on just creating a wall of technical sound, almost akin to a noise rock band.  It’s heavy but light on riffing, as the atmosphere is consistently dark and foreboding, keeping the audience in a bubble for the entire show.

This ends up putting a lot of emphasis on George Clarke’s vocals, which aren’t quite as high octane as a death metal vocalist but certainly not as scream oriented as a hardcore band.  Instead it’s a low sort of growl but not put upon like he’s trying to manipulate his voice into a screech, giving it a more authentic feel.  The blending of vocal styles is hard to pick out, but it sets up the entire band’s approach.

The mixture of styles is probably the most intriguing thing about Deafheaven, and not so much the mixture in and of itself, but the way the band so subtly pulls it off.  There are so many moving parts going on during Deafheaven’s set and it’s pretty interesting to see how the band intertwines everything.

After the band gets through the black metal and grindcore exterior of their sound, underneath is a prog rock band at their core.  They take the normal aspects of a song and then keep adding layer upon layer until just eventually changes into something completely different.  At the best of times during the set, it creates an effect that feels like a song within a song.

The danger with this approach is that the composition can get plodding and repetitive, but Deafheaven successfully avoids making that mistake.  It’s so easy for a band playing songs that weave and extend as much as Deafheaven’s do to forget the audience is even there and essentially play a private jam session.  There’s certain determination the band has while playing, like their entirely focused on having a song reach a certain destination.

It’s that kind of no frills professionalism that seems to drive Deafheaven.  There’s purposeful intensity to their set that drives the show and makes it hard to pull away from watching Deafheaven perform.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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