Deafheaven’s clean-vocal, non-metal album ‘Infinite Granite’ is here (review, stream)
Deafheaven needed to change things up. You could feel it on their last album, a musically ambitious work that was regularly compared to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness yet still scanned as black metal. They were clearly trying to break out of their shells on that album, and with Infinite Granite, they've done it. They moved to a new label (Sargent House), hired a new producer (M83/Paramore/Jimmy Eat World collaborator Justin Meldal-Johnsen, though longtime producer Jack Shirley did still engineer this one), and most noticeably of all, lead shrieker George Clarke spends the majority of the album singing instead of screaming.
"Maybe around [2015’s] New Bermuda, I felt like everyone was expanding on their instrument and getting better at what they were doing. And in certain ways I was as well, but there’s a part of me that’s always felt like the weak musical link," George told Pitchfork. "I wanted to bring more to the table—and also to service the lyrics differently."
A black metal band switching from primarily screaming to primarily singing is a change that would normally piss off the metal community, but Deafheaven have been pissing off the metal community from day one. Their shoegazy, post-rocky version of black metal has been the butt of jokes amongst "trve" black metal fans for a decade; those who actually like the band probably appreciate that the pretty side of their instrumentation is now represented vocally too.
George had done a little bit of singing on Deafheaven records before, but it was never the focal point, and he never seemed totally confident in his clean vocals. On Infinite Granite, he boldly pushes his singing voice to the forefront, and he proves to have gotten really good at it. On this album, George kinda sounds like Davey Havok singing on a Turnover record, his gothy croon fitting perfectly with the band's blend of shoegaze, post-punk, and dream pop.
There are moments on Infinite Granite that still qualify as black metal, and George does shriek sometimes, but those moments are rare. It's largely not a metal album at all, and not in the way that purists snarkily insisted Sunbather "isn't metal." It's a shoegazy rock record, much closer to bands like Hum and Nothing than to Deafheaven's usual blackgaze compatriots like Alcest. What makes it so remarkable, is that it still clearly sounds like Deafheaven. They've managed to make the most drastic change of their career without losing grasp of what made them stand out in the first place.
If I had to criticize Infinite Granite for something, it wouldn't be that it's not metal enough or that George doesn't scream enough. It'd be that, though the musical progression is effective, the songs all sound a little too similar, especially compared to Ordinary Corrupt Human Love and New Bermuda, where each individual song felt like its own unique beast. Infinite Granite adds significant new weapons to Deafheaven's arsenal, but they'd benefit from incorporating some of their other ideas into this new sound too. Maybe they will on the next album; Infinite Granite feels like a fresh start for Deafheaven, and their future looks as bright right now as it did when Sunbather first came out.
30 Essential Songs from the Shoegaze / Heavy Crossover
Listen and/or subscribe to our playlist of all 30 songs: