Deafheaven - Infinite Granite (Sargent House)

Deafheaven – Infinite Granite (Sargent House)

As we staggered away from the stage following Deafheaven’s extraordinary set at Bangkok’s 2019 Maho Rasop festival – possibly the most intense hour of live music I’ve ever experienced – my friend Jim said “You know what? If that bloke sang properly they’d be massive.”

An opinion unlikely to go down too well in the black metal community, who have apparently long since decided that Deafheaven are sellouts and dilettantes, but he had a point. Because whilst the band were undeniably heavy (it seemed like Bangkok’s entire metal community turned out that day and proceeded to go absolutely and understandably fucking mental), their set also contained passages of such twinkly melodic beauty that, like Jim, you had to concede that there wasn’t much between them and a much bigger audience than singer George Clarke’s throat-shredding black metal growl. Factor in the bass player’s Portishead t-shirt and the fact that the title of their last album was taken from a Graham Greene novel, and it was clear that there was another, very different band fighting to make itself heard. 

Well, Jim will be pleased to hear that that band has come bursting out of the closet and, aided by Wolf Alice/M83 producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen and Foo Fighters engineer Darrell Thorp, made a shameless bid to cross over, known in black metal circles as “doing an Alcest”. Track lengths are down from a previous average of over ten minutes to an almost chart-friendly six; guitars chime and jangle rather than tear the roof off the mutha, and George Clarke’s growl is almost entirely absent – he sounds less like Beelzebub himself and more like Slowdive’s Neil Halstead (and anyone who enjoys Slowdive’s current iteration and their various side projects – Black Hearted Brother, Beachy Head, Minor Victories – will find plenty to love here).

Infinite Granite’s opening trio will certainly have metal purists leaving for the exits in droves, horrified at the anthemic chorus of ‘Shellstar’, the early Smashing Pumpkins arena grunge of ‘In Blur’, and the full-on pop-rock stylings of ‘Great Mass of Color’. Really, if I didn’t know who the artist was I would never in a million years have made the right guess – it’s such a radical career swerve. And previous suspicions that the band may, on occasion, like a little bit of shoegaze are fully confirmed on ‘Lament for Wasps’ and ‘Villain’, which are equally unrecognisable.

It’s all very impressive but there is also a sense that, in overhauling their sound so dramatically, Deafheaven have rather thrown the baby out with the bathwater, with the heavier tracks – ‘The Gnashing’ and the closing epic ‘Mombasa’ – leaving you nostalgic for the way they used to sound; whilst Infinite Granite is undeniably a very good album indeed, there’s nothing here that makes you want to crank it up to eleven and get down on your fucking knees in sheer awe the way ‘Dream House’ or ‘Canary Yellow’ did. And when The Growl makes its reappearance, as it does briefly on ‘Villain’ and ‘Mombasa’, it feels less like the intelligent and sparing use of a valuable dynamic tool and more like the band grudgingly throwing a bone to their (former?) fanbase. 

But, I guess, if you want the old Deafheaven you can go and listen to Sunbather or New Bermuda, because the new Deafheaven are here and you suspect that, sooner rather than later, they are going to be everywhere. Selling out never sounded so good. 

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.