by Quentin Singer
Back in 2013, the Bay Area band, Deafheaven, earned critical praise for their sophomore album Sunbather. Since then, the band has been recognized as innovators of the metal genre with their unique blend of black metal, indie, and shoegaze styles. With their fourth and latest album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, Deafheaven seeks to manipulate their sound even further with introducing clean vocals (non-screaming) and a more melodic atmosphere. As far as listening goes, Deafheaven has never been an easy band for the casual rock or metal listener to grasp, the main issue being the shrieking vocals for most. While screaming vocals aren’t for everyone, many find it an essential ingredient to Deafheaven’s unrivaled sound, and despite some songs being made of entirely clean vocals, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love maintains elements of the band’s staple sound.
Going into this album as a dedicated fan since 2013, I was thrown off with the opening track to this record, “You Without End.” Starting the album with a piano centered and spoken word song was quite the contrast to past album openers, and it automatically lets the listener know this is not your typical Deafheaven album. All in all the first track left me feeling underwhelmed. I understood the high emotional aesthetic the song was attempting to convey, but the vast majority of the time it felt rather cheesy. Specifically, the distorted guitar parts and piano are where the song struggles, and almost every guitar solo sounds poorly improvised and not very cohesive with the major piano chords smashing in the song’s climactic moments. “You Without End” had me worried about what awaited my ears, as it leaned on sounding overdramatic throughout, but also lacked the balance of melody and heaviness Deafheaven have been known for, and instead favored simply melody. While I admire the band’s ambition to experiment with new styles, the second track “Honeycomb” was the band’s return to form, and I think it could have been a better opener to the album.
“Honeycomb” immediately kicks off with the sheer dark and heavy riffs Deafheaven is known for, and progresses to a much deeper and major-sounding climax. The high emotional range of “Honeycomb” ultimately paves the way for the transition at 4:07. Being a rather lengthy song at 11 minutes, the band includes plenty of dynamic, rhythmic, and melodic changes to keep the music interesting, which has also become very formulaic of Deafheaven over recent years.
Probably the most ‘un-deafheaven’ songs off OCHL are tracks “Near” and “Night People” (couldn’t find link for this one given the album’s not out yet), both of which feature singing talents of Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke. Being the first time the band has ever incorporated clean singing I was pleasantly surprised at how talented George is at singing, specifically in the song “Night People” which features a guest appearance from Chelsea Wolfe. Aside from singing, both of these songs feature very dreamy melancholic arrangements reminiscent of 90’s bands like Slowdive and Smashing Pumpkins. Neither of these songs are musically intense or should even be considered metal, but regardless of their unconventional sound in the context of Deafheaven’s career, they each make for a welcoming addition to the band’s catalogue.
From my listening experience, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is not Deafheaven’s best album, but definitely their most diverse. The band tried for a more melodic and major sounding approach with this new record, and for the most part it works, but not to the mesmerizing extent the band seems to be going for. For longtime fans, there’s definitely tracks to praise off of this album, particularly with “Honeycomb” and “Glint.” Aside from the musical content of OCHL, the lyrics take several nods to American poet Elizabeth Bishop, with her metaphoric use of nature and human suffering. Whether you’re a long time fan or newcomer, this album has at least something to offer, but in the end it doesn’t come near close to the perfection of their last album, New Bermuda.