My parents were on a call with my little brother when I paused dinner preparation to chime in, “please listen to Deafheaven’s new album, and let me know what you think.” He said he was not aware of their new release, and that he has only listened to their 2013 Metacritic Album of the Year, Sunbather. He called it, “the pink one,” and after I answered his inquiry as to the new album title, he said, “oh, I like that: Infinite Granite.” My father then offered his two cents of mixed praise: band name is terrible, album name cool.
In a nutshell, this tiny exchange is a microcosm of all the discourse surrounding a band that has been nothing but polarizing. Over the last eight years, Deafheaven have combined black metal and shoegaze to an astoundingly mesmerizing degree, pushed the boundaries with each of their subsequent releases, and with each pivot have captivated and divided. Deafheaven is metal as hell, while Infinite Granite is how one would describe a shoe stuck to a pedal.
Myself, I never would have given Deafheaven a chance if not for all the critical acclaim. Whenever I listened to Sunbather in 2013, I cringed at the screaming, I frowned upon the overwhelming cascades of guitar and drums, and a couple minutes into any song I simply abandoned it. Yet, I persisted: I would read a review full of praise, a friend would tell me give it a chance, I would hear snippets of bitter-sweetness in the music, but after each revisit I could not commit.
In hindsight, I am not sure when I became completely enamored with Deafheaven, but their Sunbather closer, “The Pecan Tree” essentially tells the tale in a nutshell. At 11 minutes and 37 seconds, the first act in the song symbolizes everything I resisted about the band: anger, fear, resentment. Then, at the four minute mark, the song voicelessly transitions into the second act: hesitance, acceptance, beauty. Then, at eight minutes, George Clarke starts screaming again, but the accompanying music is beyond gorgeous. It is pure catharsis.
Deafheaven parted fanbases of metal and shoegaze down the middle with their precise formula of melancholic metal, and so when they released a few singles to promote Infinite Granite and announced their intention to reinvent, I was immensely concerned, but not at all surprised. There is hardly any screaming to be heard here, no need for a lyric insert to read along with. In fact, Clarke’s subtle vocals at the very start were disarming and unnatural. Who is this person whispering, “flooded with raining, levees are breaking,” in my ear? Astounded, I hated it.
And yet I persisted, and despite the lack of shrill vocals, I relished in the atmospheric calm of halfway-point respite that was “Neptune Raining Diamonds.” There has to be anger and resentment and screaming soon after this, I thought. No. Hesitance, acceptance, beauty — That is what was waiting.
Three quarters of an hour after the first track, I was rooted to the spot. Two hours and two listens later, I could not stop weeping. Here I am–45 hours after release and almost thirty listens later–still in awe of how Deafheaven managed to encompass their entire discography so perfectly and so incongruously all at once. It is simply breathtaking.
Every Deafheaven album closer is quintessential, and “Mombasa” is no different. It begins as softly as any of their music ever has, draws you in and finds you “sleeping in nectar, teething in freedom.” Then, with the final three minutes of what is less an album and more a 53 minute, 35 second song of heart wrenching and intensely abreaction of tender empathy, Deafheaven unleash the sky, and the result is nothing less than igneous fortitude. Infinite Granite.