Deathwish have a reputation for being one of the greatest and most consistent labels in modern heavy music. They have, however, truly outdone themselves this year with three fantastic signings. The first two were inspired in the form of Punch and Touché Amoré; two excellent bands who feel like they’d fit right at home with Deathwish. The third, however, is one that truly took me by surprise and that band was Deafheaven. What Deathwish have done here is signed a band completely out of their comfort zone, yet one that sounds entirely at home in the Deathwish community.
Having released a highly promising demo tape last year, Deafheaven have seen themselves become one of the most discussed bands and ones-to-watch in the Black Metal scene. However with the demo tape, and in fact even more with the album, it can be often questioned whether this is in fact Black Metal. Now, outside influences are hardly a new thing in modern Black Metal and the places that Deafheaven take from have been being mined by the Black Metal community for years. There are clear influences from the Shoegaze noise of My Bloody Valentine, the Screamo intensity of Orchid, and the Post-Rock beautifully emotional build ups of Godspeed You! Black Emperor throughout this album. However, what does make Deafheaven so different is just how much they take from these influences. They come in sometimes as much, if not more, than influences from the Black Metal scene creating a whole new sound altogether. From the opening Post-Rock esque section to the hauntingly beautiful piano closing it is obvious that you are not just listening to another Black Metal album. In fact, in a similar way to Have A Nice Life’s mind-blowing Deathconsciousness a few years back, Roads to Judah regularly makes you question whether or not you’re actually even listening to a Metal album. However, like Deathconsciousness what you get is an album that, like all good Black Metal, focuses much more on atmosphere and intensity than anything else making the album much more of an experience than a collection of songs.
The influences also fit together perfectly. While you’d expect Deafheaven to sound like a band forcing originality or one in the middle of an identity crisis, the album sounds very unified and natural. There are also more slower passages on this record because of its ranging influences. This gives Deafheaven the ability to show off one of its greatest tricks which is fantastic transitions from slow and pretty to heavy and intense. This is best seen in Unrequited, which the first two minutes of sound like an extract from Lift Your Skinny Fists… by Godspeed You! Black Emperor before flawlessly and effortlessly kicking back in true Black Metal style.
Another aspect which makes Roads to Judah a very un-Black Metal like album, however, is the production. Like many of the releases on Deathwish, the production is very clean and professional. Quite the opposite of what is usually associated with Black Metal. However, this gives the shimmery Post-Rock guitars the ability to truly shine. Another aspect of Roads to Judah which is quite un-Black Metal esque is the amount of control Deafheaven have over their music. While Black Metal LPs by tradition are quite long and occasionally, when not done right, quite monotonous, Roads to Judah shows neither of these traits. What you actually get here is a very compact album, with a length of just under forty minutes, where every note feels like it’s there for a reason.
What Deafheaven have created here is an album which is constantly drifting away from its Black Metal roots but is tied down strong enough to never forget what it is. An album dripping in intensity and atmosphere which feels like so much more than just a bunch of songs. A brutally emotional rollercoaster which, I can’t help but feel, will be a serious competitor for my album of the year.