Okay, this review is going to kick off doing something every self-respecting writer worth their weight in paper products and bathtub gin should hate. Something even the worst journalism professor at the worst ‘Upstairs Journalism College’ would advise against. Something that should be avoided as fervently as possible, at all times and at all costs. But, let’s run through that yellow light even though there’s a cop in the rearview, eh? Let's quote their bio.
From the from the good folks at Sargent House about Deafheaven’s fifth album: “Over the course of their first ten years, Deafheaven’s music vacillated between tormented beauty and harmonic rage—a hybrid of black metal’s malice and shoegaze’s sublime wall-of-sound… Deafheaven are no longer toying with the juxtaposition of pitting metallic abrasion against swirling grandeur. Quite the opposite: Infinite Granite is a bold and brave leap forward, a gorgeous and invigorating album brimming with pomp and panache. In the context of their catalog, it takes on a whole other layer of defiant beauty. Ultimately, Infinite Granite is Deafheaven’s most goosebump-inducing album to date.”
The above is the long way of describing how Deafheaven have brought all the things that black metal fans hate about Deafheaven to sonic prominence, if not dominance. In short, where the band’s past was about melodic black metal molded and sculpted by indie rock and shoegaze influences, Infinite Granite is a indie rock/shoegaze album with the occasional nod to metal and black metal.
It’s routinely said that if people are taking a hard stance — good or bad — on the topic of your artistic output, then you’re doing something right. That having impact and stirring up emotion and opinion in people is much better than wallowing in milquetoast obscurity. Using that metric, Deafheaven should be the one of the biggest bands in metal, or indie rock, depending on which side of the fence you’re complaining from. What should be a bigger takeaway from Infinite Granite is how the band has been able to make the drastic shift from metal to not-metal and turn in a performance that doesn’t sound forced or inauthentic while adding depth to their new playground. Infinite Granite oozes Lush, Slowdive, Swervedriver, Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine and Ride, but does more than ape and rest on those influential laurels.
The difference is felt straight out of the gate with “Shellstar” and its tubular bell guitars, background ‘choral gang vox’ and George Clarke’s voice pushing higher than Morrissey’s hairline. They tease and deny with a slow build that ends up crescendoing into something that’s more Kevin Shields than Kevin Sharp. The closing third of the song — a gloriously layered wall of gossamer that includes counterpoint vocals, umpteen guitar tracks played through umpteen effects pedals and ‘90s alt-metal drum patterns — makes it clear that Deafheaven have turned over a new leaf.
“In Blur” reaches out to the cosmos as sparse guitars make way for Clarke to crack off with some ridiculously infectious vocal lines and drummer Daniel Tracy to give the song much more impact than it deserves. Endearingly, the song’s denouement is a screeching barrage of stacked guitars that will undoubtedly sound ear-bleedingly awesome when played live. If future re-releases of the movie Gravity decide to include a musical score or soundtrack, expect this track to be part of it.
“Great Mass of Color” is a dizzying slice of frustration. There’s sweetness and light caressing the hanging arpeggio guitar jangle skulking in the wings of the riff found at the bottom of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, but the song might as well have it own line of ill-fitting sweaters and shitty facial hair. However, this track does unleash the album’s first sign of anything approaching balls-out metal as distorted power chords kick in along with Clarke’s banshee black metal screams around the five or six minute mark. The sounds of blackened metal don’t rear their horned head again until album closer “Mombassa” where an enormous leap towards the Deafheaven of old is made (blast beats and all!) from its gently plucked acoustic beginnings. Note that “Mombassa” is the album closer and while there are icy Norse and USBM screams in the distant background of “Laments for Wasps” and its Therapy?-meets-Miranda Sex Garden canon-fire patter, the album’s second half continues in an even lighter and wispier fashion than the first.
Deafheaven do a relatively seamless job in their present-day artistic transition. “The Gnashing” and “Other Languages” are more akin to the raucous space rock of Cave In’s major label days and indicative of Infinite Granite’s dominating formula: songs start off whisper quiet before building more and more layers before a dense final section. That the density is rooted more in indie rock jangle and shimmer than black metal ferocity is the issue fans on this side of the divide will have to wrestle with. If there is a glaring weakness to this album it’s highlighted on “Villain,” a song that’s more about echo-y sounds instead of riffs with a backbone. Clarke does manage to salvage the meandering reverb with a hooky vocal line, which is an encouraging sign for someone whose drastic shift away from the past thrusts him into the crosshairs and, as such and as frontman, places most of the band's musical weight on his shoulders.
It remains to be seen where this is going to land in the court of public opinion and what sorts of new folks and fans are going to be brought into the fold. At it’s heart, Infinite Granite is not a metal record, but an above-average shoegaze/indie rock record that, with regards to its inclusion on a website called Metal Injection, certainly lacks in delivering an injection of that sort.