This year, instead of putting our favourite albums into a no-doubt 100% objective list, we're taking a deeper look at how 2013's most influential records have shaped the landscape of independent music. Today, how Deafheaven's Sunbather disregards the rules of metal, and why that's okay, metalheads.
Every year music critics seem to find a single metal album they can all agree on, the One Metal Album That Non-Metal Critics Love (as Spin so artfully puts it). Artists like Converge, Liturgy and Prurient have recently found themselves oddly representing aggressive music as a whole on year-end lists stuffed with pop, hip-hop and indie rock.
This year that honour falls to Deafheaven, with their sophomore album Sunbather, and it’s easy to see why. The band’s wall of sound has been described as various combinations of black metal, dream pop, shoegaze and post-rock, none of which can be called misnomers. Sunbather is dense without being pitch black, epic but triumphant, and damn catchy to boot. And while a true metal fan might argue with the band’s classification as black metal, there’s no doubt that Deafheaven created an affecting and effecting gateway, adding some colour to dark musical terrain.
Metal can be an unforgiving genre for noobs. Metal fans tend to be protective over the purity of their subgenres, often treating blurred sonic boundaries as heresy, a compromise to the brutal integrity of the original sound. And that leaves little room for anyone looking for a way into this foreboding sonic landscape. Yet this year offered a wave of artists working in the aggressive music arena with little regard for subcultural rules.
Where Deafheaven found beauty in noise, Belgian label mates Oathbreaker found brutality, mixing hardcore and grind with their black metal on their latest Eros/Anteros. Members of Neurosis, Eyehategod and Yakuza teamed up as metal super group Corrections House to create post-apocalyptic art-metal on Last City Zero. Toronto’s own Blood Ceremony delivered fantastic slabs of classic ‘70s doom metal and prog-rock without excising the spooky occult elements that drew Tolkien-loving outcasts to the party in the first place with their latest The Eldritch Dark. Irish group Altar of Plagues united industrial grind, drone and blackened vocals on their swan song Teethed Glory and Injury. Meanwhile their friend Bobby Krlic released the year’s most brutally dark album without even picking up a guitar on Excavation, the debut full-length from his Haxan Cloak, even if the resultingly bleak electronic-driven dronescapes are more metal in spirit than in practice.
All of these artists mix and match sounds based on what works artistically, rather than what suits their chosen genre without compromising the brutality of the music. There’s always a place for metal in its purest forms. But breaking rather than adhering to rules is a tenant of all great music. Who cares if it attracts a few new faces to the heavy metal parking lot?
Oathbreaker, Eros Anteros
Corrections House , Last City Zero
Blood Ceremony, The Eldritch Dark
Altar of Plagues, Teethed Glory and Injury
The Haxan Cloak, Excavation