Deafheaven

If there are two things that Deafheaven and Earth have in common, it’s a love of the long song and the loud noise. That is just about where the comparisons end. Where Deafheaven’s big breakthrough came less than a year ago, Earth has been plowing their particular field for over two decades. Where Deafheaven opts for blast beats, raging passion, and waves of guitar, Earth tends to play as slowly as possible and have become pioneers of a particular kind of drone metal. As a Friday night double bill, it made for a gripping contrast between two completely different approaches to heavy music.

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All photos by Laura Chirinos

Firstly, Dylan Carlson’s three-piece played 45 minutes of crisp, clean riffs at the speed of Sigur Ros at their most languid. Carlson himself has been the constant in the band since its incarnation, and he played a succession of new material before finishing on one of the first songs the band ever released.

The set was meandering in parts and hypnotic in others, and the overall impression was that the ideal setting for the music was not in a support slot, but as a headliner in an open field with thousands of people present, preferably lying down as they listen to the band play for three hours or so. It’s best just to let the music of Earth wash over you rather than to try to apply any critical faculties to it. This was music to be felt.

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The reception was inevitably more charged for the headliners Deafheaven. The Bay Area metal act admitted that this was the biggest headline show of their career so far, and it was further evidence of their remarkable crossover success since the release of their masterpiece Sunbather last year.

As a live band, they are somewhat unusual. The majority of the band remained fairly stationary and detached throughout the show, leaving vocalist George Clarke and drummer Daniel Tracy to carry the burden of providing the show’s energy. Fortunately, they were both up to the task. Clarke is a man who even in the infancy of the band’s career has proven his ability to work up a crowd, and he whipped the front section into a frenzy early on.

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The band sounded terrific as well. El Rey has proven to be one of LA’s best venues for acoustics almost every time I’ve attended a show there, and Deafheaven’s wall of sound remained crisp, with Kerry McCoy’s chiming guitar lines clearly audible through the maelstrom.

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Most bands at least wait until the reunion tour to play an album in its entirety, but Deafheaven chose to play Sunbather all the way through before returning for an encore of “Unrequited” off their fine debut album, Roads To Judah. It’s an approach that is difficult to criticize when the album is as close to perfection as any release of this still young decade, and the band reproduced its qualities with some panache.

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As for the highlight, that had to be the full 15 minutes of “Vertigo,” which remains an absolute behemoth of a song and is perhaps the most convincing evidence yet of just how special this band is. Other groups have combined brutality and beauty by using death metal as their template and jumping off point, but none with the conviction and sheer overwhelming power of Deafheaven.

Deafheaven’s show will continue to develop for sure, but the music is already there. Next up for the band is a series of festival appearances this summer. Expect newcomers to be blown away.

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