DIIV – ‘Deceiver’ review: bruising and distorted grunge ballads about facing the past

After a false dawn, the troubled New York band attempt to lay some demons to rest on this woozy, Smashing Pumpkins-inspired record

DIIV have, it’s fair to say, been through some shit. There’s been frontman Zachary Cole Smith’s battle with heroin addiction, which in 2013 made the indie star the unlikely and uncomfortable subject of tabloid attention, when he and his then-girlfriend, the near-superstar Sky Ferriera, were pulled over in New York by police who uncovered a “plastic bag containing 42 decks of heroin”. And last year, the band kicked out bassist Devin Perez, who had, it emerged in 2014, posted sexist, racist, homophobic comments on the incel hang-out 4Chan.

The New York group’s third album, ‘Deceiver’, finds them on firmer terrain. Perez has been replaced by old friend Colin Caulfield, while Smith has been through a successful rehab program. Smith had claimed 2016’s dreamy ‘Is The Is Are’ was “a light at the end of the tunnel” of his addiction, though he’s since confessed that assessment was a little premature – hence the title of this album, perhaps. Where its predecessor was airy and spaced-out, ‘Deceiver’ packs some seriously heavy riffs, sliding between monster rockers (the scything, fist-swinging ‘Blankenship’) and moon-eyed grunge ballads (opener ‘Horsehead’, for instance) that wouldn’t sound too out of place on an early Smashing Pumpkins record.

DIIV have always resisted scrutiny, Smith’s lyrics buried deep in the mix, and here they’re shrouded in so much reverb and distortion it feels almost conceptual, as if the howling coda on ‘Like Before You Were Born’ is intended to reflect to inner noise of someone hiding from themselves. This record is most fascinating, though, when Smith invites us to empathise. ‘Skin Game’, an imagined conversation between two recovering addicts, is at first movingly prosaic (“I can see you’ve had some struggles lately / Hey man, I’ve had mine too”) before the track slides into vivid, feverish imagery: “They gave us wings to fly / But then they took away the sky.”

It’s tempting to say that ‘Deceiver’ truly excels at its heaviest, given that these moments – the pitiless, piledriving chorus of ‘For The Guilty’; the heaving last gasp of feedback that roars through ‘Acheron’ – are the record’s most memorable. But it’s actually the more fragile moments on ‘Deceiver’ that ultimately prove to be the most emotionally resonant: see the unguarded way in which Smith sighs, for instance, “How are you today?” on the hushed verse of ‘For The Guilty’. This is an album about rebuilding and, finally, facing yourself.