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Deafheaven - "Roads To Judah" (CD)

Deafheaven - "Roads To Judah" CD cover image

"Roads To Judah" track listing:

1. Violet
2. Language Games
3. Unrequited
4. Tunnel of Trees

Reviewed by on April 12, 2011

"...expect to hear Deaf Heaven’s name spoken in the same sentence as black shoegaze leaders Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room and Alcest."

San Francisco’s Deafheaven is a newcomer to the USBM scene. Not content with sitting on their asses and wait for something to happen, the two-man group sought exposure at this year’s SXSW festival. Their performance left quite an impression on this scribe. After their performance, I mentioned to vocalist George Clarke how they remind me of Wolves in the Throne Room. He said they get that a lot.

Cruising the Internet, I often saw Deafheaven compared to Wolves in the Throne Room. Others tagged their sound as shoegaze. “Roads to Judah” contains plenty of shoegaze, particularly their use of guitar pedal effects. Although the album blazes fourth with Mercurial speed, especially the drums, and Kerry McCoy’s dissonant, tremolo-picked rhythms often stay within the same note groupings. Combined with icy tones, these rhythms duplicate the wasted energy of trudging through a snowstorm. McCoy often glides through the wintry haze and keeps the rhythm moving through gradually rising scales.

Further exemplifying this shoegaze term, Deafheaven thrives on a noisy, layered production that pushes George Clark’s vocals to the background. Without a lyric sheet, Clark’s words become indecipherable, and his voice transforms into an instrumental that lends atmosphere. His voice is akin to the distant, ominous shriek of a Yeti echoing its dominance through the Himalayan mountaintops. A look at the band’s lyrics reveals rich imagery connected to abstract concepts. Most of his poetry is of the unrhymed sort, but his words flow, nonetheless.

“Roads to Judah” has a playing time of over 38 minutes, which makes it long enough for full-length consideration, but the album has only four tracks. These tracks are quite lengthy—its shortest tracks weights in at nearly seven minutes—giving the band plenty of time to construct numerous parts. “Roads to Judah” is by no means progressive in its transitions, but no song sounds the same throughout. “Unrequited” goes through phases of slow, single note, Neurosis-like harmonies, callous-causing speed, falling action and a tempo crescendo to end the track. “Tunnel of Trees” follows a similar route but fades away into sad piano notes that could serve as a Burzum instrumental.

“Roads to Judah” may contain long tracks, but the way each track subtlety builds should keep the listener’s attention. The contrary motion of speed and continuous notes gives the album a violent-yet-thought-provoking vibe. Letting your thoughts fly into outer space isn’t a bad thing here. This style of black metal is quietly gaining a mass following. In the near future, expect to hear Deafheaven’s name spoken in the same sentence as black shoegaze leaders Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room and Alcest.

Highs: The album contains visual atmosphere, guitar melodies and rapid paces.

Lows: Each song is long and the lyrics aren't memorable.

Bottom line: "Roads to Judah" is a stong debut.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)