Deafheaven is a band that I find fascinating in that they present a bit of a conundrum for your average metalhead. These guys are a band that deals in a vein of black metal in which they have imbued with their own individual flavor. There are two things that are kind of working against them in relation to the metal community at large. First, image. Let’s face it, metalheads are fairly conservative in their tastes. By and large, you show up in some combo of black tour shirt, jeans, sneakers/boots, battle vest, leather jacket, etc. In the black metal universe, the general rule is that you are going to hit the stage in corpse paint and some sort of leather warlike and/or gothic outfit with spikes and various armaments. Deafheaven eschews all tradition by cultivating a hipster ethic in appearance. These guys look exactly like any number of dudes you would see hanging out at your local specialty coffee shop. Actually, they kind of look like every band nerd that you knew in high school. One of the guitarists actually hit the stage in a Depeche Mode tour shirt last night. There is nothing wrong with this at all, but for some reason, the way that the guys in Deafheaven look has created a bit of a ripple of controversy in the metal world. It’s like metalheads are just insulted that Deafheaven refuse to embrace the “metal” look. Which leads me to point #2 which is that Deafheaven not only is a black metal band, but that are black metal band that is in touch with its feelings. Oh the HORROR!! Really, if hispter emo black metal was a thing, then Deafheaven is its creator. Black Metal is supposed to be the bleakest of the bleak. Frozen wastelands, zero hope, complete desolation and, of course, God is an asshole. This is what your black metal denizen expects and requires. When the five hipsters from San Francisco roll out songs with titles such as “Baby Blue”, “Dream House” and “Sunbather”, the grimmest of black metal fans is going to start feeling conflicted and uncomfortable.
So, the weird thing about all this is what I experienced at last night’s concert. I honestly think I may have been the only “true” metalhead in attendance. Usually, metal shows are a smorgasbord of metal concert shirts. It’s always part of the fun for me to see all the different shirts that people break out for shows. I seriously didn’t see one metal shirt at all in the crowd. This crowd was made up of hipsters as far as the eye could see. I saw dudes in stylish hats. I saw dudes in floral pastel shirts. I saw dudes wrapped in scarves. I saw a dude in a kimono. I saw all sorts of waxed facial hair. This was a really weird crowd and it was composed of people that I really wouldn’t have guessed would be into black metal. But they went absolutely nuts during the show. They absolutely ate up what Deafheaven was throwing down.
So the conundrum is this: Why are hipsters drawn to Deafheaven and not other black metal bands? And, as a corollary, why do “true” metalheads tend to discount Deafheaven and view them as not quite “real” metal? Late last year, I went to see the traditional black metal band, Belphegor, late last year. It was a traditional metal crowd. I didn’t see any of the type of people in attendance that I saw at last night’s show.
This whole thing is really irritating to me. Deafheaven is a super band. They are taking a traditional genre of metal and they are putting their own creative spin on it. This should be celebrated. They are really good musicians and the songs are just epic with numerous breaks in intensity and melodies. I just think that if your typical metalhead could put aside the surface level issues that they would see that Deafheaven is METAL; regardless of how they look or the subjects of their songs. On the same coin, I would love to see some of these hipsters branch out and come see some traditional metal bands. Are you just into Deafheaven because they look like you? If you dig the genre in which Deafheaven exists, then branch out and expose yourself to bands like Darkthrone, Immortal and Bathory.
Ultimately, I just want to bring people together.
So, beyond all that, how was the show? Fantastic. These guys just deliver live.
Also on the bill was San Marcos’ This Will Destroy you who really provided some seriously atmospheric rock landscapes. It was just mesmerizing.
Surprise of the night was opener, Emma Ruth Rundle. She was really fantastic in performing these atmospheric rock songs that would start out quiet and just crescendo into these blazing walls of sound. Her voice was just amazing.
Here are a couple of clips of Deafheaven doing their thing.
Brought to the Water