If you want to talk about the pressure that comes with releasing a new album, try this on for size: You’ve recorded the best reviewed album of 2013, an album with its roots in black metal that took you from relative obscurity to being a much buzzed about and hugely divisive talking point. Those who praised that particular album are wondering how on earth you can follow it up, and the haters are waiting for proof that you are, in fact, a hollow bunch of metal posers and fakers.

What Deafheaven has pulled off with New Bermuda is pretty sensational. It is an album of progression that does not jettison what made the band so special in the first place, and it is driven to further extremes at either end of the spectrum. The “pretty” and “ugly” parts, so beautifully blended on Sunbather, are now more definitive. There are moments of contemplative star-gazing gorgeousness (the alt-country slide-guitar outro to “Come Back” is both completely unexpected and perfect), but the “not a real metal band” crowd might want to give it a try because it is also heavy as hell.

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Developments in the band’s sound have only enhanced the fury. George Clarke’s voice is more prominent in the mix and has gotten harsher and more gnarled in the last couple of years. Kerry McCoy has developed a new-found passion for thrash riffs like the one that opens the relentless “Luna” and a knack for showy but unfussy guitar solos such as the awesome wah-wah interlude in the slow, hulking beast that is “Baby Blue.” Best of all, drummer Dan Tracy is unstoppable, using perfectly timed fills in his tornado of blast beats to give the album a crushing rhythmic base.

Most of the glorious post-rock climaxes of Sunbather have gone, other than the breakdown at the end of “Luna.” That particular track is the best example of the album’s more bitter and anguished tone, partly inspired by Clarke’s move to LA (“There is no ocean for me. There is no glamour. Only the mirage of water ascending from the asphalt”). There are more quirks and risks to the sound as well, most unusually in the post-punk moodiness of the album closer, “Gifts Of The Earth,” which strays completely from any previous template for a Deafheaven song, during which Clarke’s voice sounds utterly lost in the void.

If the album is a notch or two below Sunbather in quality (it slightly lacks that album’s perfect flow of peaks, its edges more jagged), and if their friends in Bosse-De-Nage have already given them a run for best kind-of-black-metal album of the year, it doesn’t change the fact that New Bermuda confirms Deafheaven’s greatness. They have the skill and passion to match their soaring ambition, and they have risen to the challenge of this follow-up. It’s going to quiet some of the haters, and it might even force some others to accept that, metal or not, Deafheaven might just be the best rock band on the planet right now.

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