Recently, I’ve written about some good records by bands that are not startling original. This got me thinking about a recent discovery (though I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get up to speed): Deafheaven‘s 2011 Deathwish release, Roads To Judah. While there are many familiar touchstones here, Deafheaven combine their influences to create something wholly original — something I don’t think I’ve ever really heard before. Deafheaven is often tossed into the Black Metal bucket which means they are dismissed by “true” Black Metal fans and ignored by a large swath of rock listeners. That’s unfortunate because Roads To Judah is a breathtaking, challenging, and highly addictive record.
It’s unclear how these kids stumbled upon this brilliant combination of Explosions-In-The-Sky-style orchestral post-rock guitars, blast beats, and throat-shredding, demon-channeling vocals, but they’ve fully integrated these styles in a way no post-metal band has ever done. The standard template of alternating between noodly atmospherics and punishing noise riffs has been completely abandoned here. Guitars soar in beautiful cascades suggesting heartbreaking chord progressions while the drums operate like a distant machine shop and the buried vocals act as (surprisingly) melodic textures.
The real strength of the record though is that the headlong forward motion is given context by deft arrangements that include relatively straightforward sections. When drummer Trevor Deschryver switches gears abruptly from machine-gun snare hits to a mile-wide ”rock” riff, the effect is dazzling. While singer George Clarke is a bit of a one-trick pony, the rest of the band push and pull melody, rhythm, atmosphere, and brutality around him, constantly shifting the ground he stands on. Roads exists on so many levels simultaneously it’s hard to fathom how the break-shit agression, the fist-pumping adrenaline, and the ennui-inducing melancholy can possibly coexist. But they do and they have made me a better person.