If anyone had questions about deafheaven being able to follow up 2013’s “Sunbather” with something as good, the band’s latest release, “New Bermuda” buries their doubts in the deep density of a black hole…or that place in the Atlantic where things allegedly check-in but never leave. Perhaps the most repeated term used in association with “Sunbather” is ‘polarising’, dividing listeners as those who love it and those that deride it for for its lack of ‘pure’ black metal creds. I can understand why the ‘purists’ have a problem with it but if these folk had their way, we’d still be thinking the world is flat and that off the edge is a precipitous drop into nothingness. Thankfully, on the evidence of “New Bermuda” the band isn’t bothered at all by such criticism. I fell in love with “Sunbather” two years back but I rate this new album even higher. It feels more cogent, nuanced and evolved.
Church bells leading into a song have been done to death. But even a tired tool of the trade takes on a rare freshness as the very short cheer of the Christmas-like chimes a few seconds into the start of the opener, “Brought To The Water” only heightens the all-consuming sense of drowning in dark depths. The quality of the music never takes a dip anywhere on the album. The furious “Luna” suddenly melting surprisingly into a dreamy interlude; gliding post-rock arrangements of “Baby Blue” breaking out into a dense, guitar-drenched space; the manic, raging despair of “Come Back” folding gracefully into one of the most beautiful codas I’ve heard; the quiet, dignified acceptance of the inevitable end in the oddly uplifting album-closer “Gifts For The Earth” as George Clarke goes: Then further downward so that I can rest, cocooned by the heat of the ocean floor. In the dark, my flesh to disintegrate into consumption for the earth. This is heartrendingly beautiful music; its underlying desolation marked by a stunning poignance. I’m not much for lists but if I had to pick my album of the year, “New Bermuda” would be it.
I love, adore, respect deafheaven’s music for the same reason that I do that of bands like Agalloch and The Ocean. They are formed of a rare combination of ambition, imagination and intelligence. These are not ‘flat earth’ purists. They are not stymied by stasis and they will keep pushing frontiers wider and deeper.