Thursday, 28 July 2011

Deafheaven – Roads to Judah (Deathwish)

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.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Abolition – Abolition (Holy Roar)

With this, their debut album, Abolition prove themselves to be a very promising face on the UK Hardcore scene. Being released on the impressively consistent Holy Roar Records, Abolition’s self-titled sees them doing very little new but doing it very well. With their sound being eternally indebted to the sound of the ‘90s Metallic Hardcore scene it comes as no surprise to see obvious comparisons between them and Unbroken or Integrity. The heavy slowed down Hardcore riffs, the emphasis on rhythm, and the intense barking vocals all point back to Metallic Hardcore’s heyday. They stay surprisingly true to this sound throughout their self-titled as well. While their counterparts like Pulling Teeth and Die Young are adding more modern day Hardcore influences and turning up the tempo, Abolition stay set in their much heavier, darker ways.
An area in which this album draws away from that ‘90s Melodic Hardcore sound, however, is the production. Produced by Jamie Fayre, who has worked with their fellow Holy Roar band Last Witness, the production is much cleaner and professional than you would usually associate with Melodic Hardcore. However, this production suits the band perfectly and lets you get the most out of the individual sections, especially the lead guitar work. The production is not the only thing that works great here but the band itself as an entity is incredibly good. The rhythm section is so unbelievably tight, leaving plenty of space for those intensely barking vocals and lead guitarist Sam Knight’s brilliant work. However, it is possibly when these elements break down and the growling vocals are replaced with spoken word or when the guitars get more melodic that Abolition are really at their best. This is when the band shows, glistening through the heaviness and aggression, some genuinely beautiful extracts. There isn’t a better example of this than on closing track, Dawn of a New Age, where it all just breaks down leaving these elements bare for all to see. The song cuts out about half way through and this incredible modulated riff is introduced and is gradually accompanied by spoken word. This leads to the song kicking back in with arguably the heaviest moment of the album and the transaction is just mind-blowing. It is probably this moment, more than any, where Abolition show just how great and promising a band they really are.