Rarely does it happen when a metal album of any degree finds itself categorised among the best of the year. I must admit, not being an avid metal listener, I would not have picked the records up had it not received such glowing reviews. Fortunately though, I did, and was repaid with one of the most structurally assembled, brilliantly paced and musically sound records I’ve heard in years. The vocal work is (thankfully for hesitant listeners as I) toned down so it serves more as a shoegaze-y vocal to stunning instrumentation.
Alright, to start with, I will point out that there ARE lyrics. In saying that though, as I find them so irrelevant to the music, and hard to pick up on, I will not be referencing any in this review despite some of them actually being quite eloquent. Word to the listener, this album is immaculately paced, and blends breakdowns and instrumentals flawlessly with their proper metal sections, so don’t expect a build-up before a ‘drop’, Sunbather grips you suddenly and frequently. Opener and best track “Dream House” wastes little time before asserting their dominance. A breakdown in the middle of the track is effectively utilized to allow for mental rest, before climaxing in a way that is unparalleled within the album.
Instrumental “Irresistible” is the most captivating moment on the record, a beautiful arrangement of guitar and piano that is so serene and quaint that it ultimately leads your brain to not suspect the explosion that is the title track “Sunbather”. “Please Remember” and “Windows” are two dark instrumentals that help develop a sense of unease within the album. The former displaying their unpredictability by following an apocalyptic noise with lush acoustic guitar. Arguably the centrepiece, colossal builder “Vertigo” rarely lets up during its near 15 minute length, always harbouring a possibility to explode. Closer and standout “The Pecan Tree” contains the strongest breakdown and build-up, with a recurring simple piano riff slowly being enveloped by other instruments and samples.
The incredibly moody “Windows” incorporates monologues and dialogues to the backdrop of ethereal, swirling sounds. “There is weeping and gnashing of teeth” is heard, which naturally brings to mind “Mercy”. It’s fair to say that in the same way West expands hip hop, Deafheaven could be expanding metal. Black metal, shoegaze, post-rock; whatever the genre, this is one of the records of the year. The fact that it may have alone cast suspicion on my indifference to metal will make this one of the records that will remain long in the memory. This is special music, it serves to remind us that no matter what the genre, who the listeners, the effect and emotional impact is not limited to those who regularly seek its confines.
Verdict – 9.1
Top Songs – “Dream House”, “Irresistible”, “The Pecan Tree”