Deafheaven’s latest is an arduous and placid take on their sound, subverting much of the appeal the group’s abrasive brio holds.
Deafheaven, either by elaborate design or by complete circumstance, have painted themselves into a creative corner, one that isn’t and has never been all that shocking a destination for them to end up at. After all, there really was only one band who could possibly take with the whole shoegaze black-metal thing they had going for themselves — a sound they had taken to some stimulating extremes on their first three solo albums, and sort of faltered with a bit on their fourth — and now all but abandon it with their latest, Infinite Granite. Which for any other band would be a refreshing change of pace, one that should be welcomed and embraced by naysayers who have accused them of being one-trick ponies. Thing is, that would require the outfit to produce a record that had any semblance of vitality, one that actually took some risks instead of lopping off the harsh extremities of their sound. In short, this is still very much a Deafheaven album in terms of proficient technical artistry — the type that never becomes too outright abstruse — now just minus everything else that made them unique in the first place. It’s Deafheaven without the “deaf,” only the “heaven.”
So instead of being treated to frontman George Clarke’s traditional shrieking screamo vocals that would pummel the listener’s eardrums, we now have him giving undistinguished, weak, nasally performances that are as non-descript as most of the instrumental choices that follow; he’s never had much range as a vocalist, which wasn’t much of a factor before, but is outright crippling in this specific context. Especially since his faux-poetic lyrics are now as coherently articulated as ever (always an element even the most dedicated of fans would tune out) and which only exacerbates Infinite Granite’s most pressing issue: Deafheaven has traded in ferocity for stoicism, which, frankly, makes for a rather dull and lifeless listening experience. Their intense progressions, tight song structures, and towering and tonal sense of punishment and pleasure are all gone, replaced by a monotonous sense of abreaction. It’s a complete wash of post-rock cliches, where the closest they come to their original vibe is, fitting enough, on closer “Mombasa,” erupting at the tail end beyond the bounds of mere sonic wallpaper — but by that point, it’s too little too late. This is perhaps the hidden objective behind this arduous excursion: by demonstrating how placid their music could be, it’ll make listeners want more of the same and feel ashamed for ever demanding more. Mission accomplished, I guess?
Published as part of Album Roundup — August 2021 | Part 3.