Ever since their 2011 debut, San Francisco’s Deafheaven have alternated between two opposing musical selves: the heady dreaminess of shoegaze and the emotive torment of black metal. Few bands have successfully combined the two as skilfully as Deafheaven, yet fifth album ‘Infinite Granite’ represents an about-turn, the five-piece opting for a singular stylistic path. On this love letter to ’90s shoegaze, the black metal menace of their earlier work is replaced by lush soundscapes and dreamy psychedelia.
Fans of frontman’s George Clarke’s aggressive vocals are perhaps in for the biggest shock, as the sublime ‘Lament For Wasps’ best illustrates. His trademark angry, gnarly deliveries are gone, swapped for soaring harmonies and soft whispers on a track reminiscent of Ride’s sublime ‘Vapour Trail’.
The album was written during lockdown, when Clarke started to climb the walls. “There was this sense of being stuck in solid space”, he recently said, explaining that he was debilitated by “the weight of repetition and routine.” He battled insomnia for months before he eventually gave in, embraced it and wrote all the album’s songs between three and six in the morning. “I lay steady, stare at the ceiling waking fears of nothing… In this perfect hour / gasping in a sleepless kneel,” he sings on ‘Lament For Wasps’. The lyrics are some of Deafheaven’s strongest – considered, precise and crushingly vulnerable.
Songs veer between the depths of an insomniac nightmare and lush daydreams, between dwelling on the past in the depths of night and looking to the future as the sun rises. ‘Great Mass Of Colour’ and ‘Villain’ showcase this well with lush guitar layerings reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr and Slowdive. ‘Neptune Raining Diamonds’ meanwhile, is a brave album standout, an instrumental track whose drones and synths nod to ’80s sci-fi.
‘The Gnashing’ and lengthy album closer ‘Morbassa’ bring an uneasy jolt, being the most guitar-heavy on the album. These songs treat the band’s black metal fans to a few, short-lived angry screams, but on an album where shoegaze reigns supreme, they feel out of sync.
It’s a bold move, five albums in, to choose a singular sonic path that could alienate half your fanbase – but then again, Deafheaven have always been a band known for extremes. The risk here pays dividends. It’s their most ambitious and cohesive album to date and embracing their shoegaze selves brings renewal: for a band known for torment and chaos, it’s a joy to hear them sounding so hopeful.
Release Date: August 20
Record Label: Sargent House