deafheaven are one of my favorite genre-bending black metal bands. Their debut album Roads To Judah made many of the Best of 2011 lists we published at this site, and I also included the song “Violet” in our list of 2011’s Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs. Though I was sold on the band based on that album and their previous EP, Libertine Dissolves, I became an even more devoted fan after seeing them perform live at Neumo’s in Seattle about a year ago and talking with their charismatic frontman George Clarke both before and after that set.
When I saw the news that they had recorded a song for a forthcoming split release with another Bay Area black metal band, Bosse-de-Nage, I begged for the chance to hear the split, and my wish was granted.
deafheaven’s song is a cover of “Punk Rock” and “Cody”, the opening songs from the 1999 album Come On Die Young, by Scotland’s Mogwai. By coincidence, Andy Synn included this deafheaven track in a list of his favorite “unexpected” covers that we published only a few days ago.
Before diving into deafheaven’s take on the songs, I first listened to the Mogwai originals, with which I wasn’t familiar. “Punk Rock” is a drifting, dreamy, isolated guitar arpeggio that plays out over a sample from a speech that Iggy Pop made during a 1977 CBC interview. “Cody” is similarly slow and restrained, a beautiful, hypnotic, near-pop song with layered guitars, almost-hidden vocals, and a decidedly melancholy ambience.
I could guess what attracted deafheaven to the song. It has an aching, emotionally open quality, and deafheaven are a band who wear their hearts on their sleeves, even if their hearts beat within a maelstrom of intense noise. The mesmerizing quality of the guitar notes also has its parallel in deafheaven’s own music, though again, there is nothing muted about the way deafheaven weave their spells.
deafheaven still use a vocal sample on “Cody” (though one of our commenters says it’s William Faulkner’s Nobel prize acceptance speech instead of that Iggy Pop interview), but the intensity of the ringing guitars already begins to infuse the music with a black metal sensibility. “Cody” starts in a dreamy way, comparable to the original though heavier, but then opens up in a cascading wave of guitar chords and a slow bass and drum groove. George Clarke’s vocals are predictably searing, with no holds barred. It’s as emotionally raw as anything he’s done yet. And the tremolo-picked guitar lead that takes over the song about two-thirds through its length is riveting.
There’s a comparatively subdued interlude, with Clarke’s vocals diminished to a ghostly rasp, before the song explodes at the finish in a torrent of pulsating bass, scything guitar, and hammering percussion.
In a nutshell, the song is blasted, and bleak, and just fucking gorgeous, like some craggy desert gorge splitting the earth into blackness under the moon.
Bosse-de-Nage recorded an original song for the split by the name of “A Mimesis of Purpose”, and for me it was a wake-up call to the striking talents of this band.
A martial snare pattern and a thumping bass line kick off the introduction, with layered melodic guitar notes ringing above the percussion. The drums halt, and the guitars strengthen in intense, dissonant cascades. The percussion assumes the quality of an automatic weapon unleashed in segmented bursts, the vocals began to spray acid (or mutter in grim spoken-word passages), the guitars grind away like a giant bone saw.
It’s transfixing music, but it dives deeply into the gloom, weighted down like a mass of concrete chained to a thrashing, falling body in deep waters. Memorable spiraling guitar melodies work their way slowly through the murk, in stark contrast to the astonishing drum work, which is an absolute frenzy and may be the true star of the song.
Like deafheaven’s own contribution, “A Mimesis of Purpose” is emotionally intense music — dense, intricate, despairing, and dramatic. It definitely makes me want to explore this band’s music further (and fortunately, their albums are available here on Bandcamp).
Both of the two songs are long — 10:37 and 9:02, respectively. Together, the deafheaven and Bosse-de-Nage tracks make up an EP-length work, and it’s one of the best short releases of 2012.
The split will be released by The Flenser Records on November 20, both on vinyl and digitally. The vinyl can be pre-ordered from The Flenser here, and it’s also available at deafheaven’s store at this location. Watch The Flenser Facebook or Bandcamp pages for news about the digital release.
The deafheaven track is now up on YouTube, but the Bosse-de-Nage song is not yet publicly available for streaming. Here’s the former: