Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Deafheaven are not a black metal band. Guitarist Kerry McCoy said that although clearly influenced by the sub-genre, they don’t really have “the ethos, the aesthetic or really the sound of one”. So there you have it: Deafheaven are not a black metal band. It’s clear to see why they have distanced themselves from that particular label, because they are so, so much more than that. They are almost unclassifiable, blending elements of metal, shoegaze, post rock, even the sounds of Britpop at times (McCoy claimed that their last album, 2015’s New Bermuda, was influenced by 90s British rock). How many black metal bands do you know that have released an album called Sunbather, complete with a lush, pink album cover? It’s because of this, and many more reasons, why some people have labeled them ‘hipster metal’, and sought to ridicule what the band do, with brilliant reviews in mainstream music press like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone cited as reasons why Deafheaven are a metal band ‘for people who don’t like metal’.

And to be honest, that might be true. I don’t particularly like metal bands, but damn it I love Deafheaven. Their melodic lushness combined with their crushing heaviness really strikes a chord with me, and then there is frontman George Clarke (alas, not him of ‘Amazing Spaces’ fame), who is the most mesmerising frontman I’ve ever seen live. Last time I saw them was at Pitchfork Paris in 2013, when I’d only just heard Sunbather and went to see them out of intrigue, not sure what to expect. I left as an astonished fan, and it was largely down to Clarke. Dressed entirely in black, complete with black leather gloves and short, slicked back hair, he was totally magnificent. So far away from what you imagine a frontman of a ‘metal’ band to look and act like, he spent the entire time theatrically posturing at the front of the stage backed by dazzling lights, and releasing that from-hell throaty screamo growl vocal atop of the backing of the incredible band. This time I know what to expect, but it doesn’t stop me being giddy with anticipation.

The band come on stage with three guitarists, a drummer and Clarke all present. In the background, the band create a sea of pretty instrumental sounds before WHAM! they tear into ‘Brought to the Water’ from New Bermuda, a song that pummels the front of the crowd into a mass of head-banging, and further back considered head-nodding, before opening up into what can only be accurately described as something like the chorus from Sixpence Non the Richer’s seminal ‘Kiss Me’ done by Metallica.

Throughout, Clarke stalks around the stage like an uncaged panther, staring wild eyed into the crowd, beckoning them with his hands to go harder. During the instrumental sections, he imaginarily conducts the band with short, sharp hand movements. Literally and metaphorically tonight, the gloves are off; Clarke has longer hair, not slicked back anymore but wild and free, still dressed head to toe in black but now with his top button undone. He thrashes his head back and forth with the kids down front, stands on the monitors, chest puffed out, eyeballing the sweating throngs below, and he’s completely hypnotising – I barely take my eyes off him all night.

The crowd adore him too. After two more tracks from New Bermuda in the shape of a thunderous ‘Baby Blue’ and cacophonous ‘Come Back’, Clarke announces that they’re going to play some older tracks, starting with ‘Language Games’ from their debut Road to Judah and a sensational cover of Mogwai’s ‘Cody’ (seriously, how far from traditional metal can you get?! You’ve never seen anything so sinister as a man like Clarke growling “sad songs, remind me of you” directly at you). They launch into ‘Dreamhouse’ from Sunbather and all hell breaks loose. The kids down front immediately start crowd surfing and it’s pandemonium from here on in, in the best possible way. The band soars majestically through the song, riffs pounding, drums hammering, the shimmering guitars reaching for the stars, Clarke growling and spitting his way through the track, shirt soaked to the bone, an animal intensity as he kneels and stares the crowd down through his sweat drenched locks (looking for all the world like The Undertaker from WWE in these moments).


A crowd surfer gets onto the stage, ripped up by Clarke himself, given a rough hug before literally being tossed from the stage back onto the waiting arms of the crowd to continue the surf. It’s hilarious watching on as one by one brave lads (and one intrepid gal) make it onto the stage before being unceremoniously thrown off by Clarke. It never gets out of hand, it’s never anything more than utter idolisation, and it’s thrilling to watch. Indeed several times during this and the following ‘Sunbather’, Clarke himself launches into the crowd and is carried, Christ like, atop of the writhing masses back to the stage.

They finish with the epic closer to Sunbather, ‘The Pecan House’, Clarke thanking the crowd for “our favourite gig here” and McCoy thanking the security for “being so cool” (and they are – they don’t interfere with the stage divers all night, and there’s no need to), reminding us to “look after each other out there”. ‘The Pecan House’ is the perfect distillation of what Deafheaven are in 10 minutes – thunderous noise created by the drums and guitars, Clarke screaming away, before the entire thing escalates into a stunning post-rock melody that brings me close to tears, such is the intensity of the sound and the beauty of the noise. They finish, and the crowd goes wild, arms extended upwards clapping and whistling away in appreciation of what I think will be the most thrilling, visceral and downright entertaining show of 2017 – it’s going to take something special to top this.

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