Bandleader George Clarke doesn’t really encounter much of this anymore, several years removed from detractors really digging in.
“It’s definitely simmered down ... I think people who dislike us are mostly indifferent at this point,” Clarke says. When City Paper spoke with him, he was relaxing at home for roughly 48 hours between European and North American tours in support of the band’s latest, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.
It’s hard to describe the vastness of this band without sounding dumb. Watching the sun on a tsunami from a safe distance; rippling through the clouds at dawn; throttling away on a minecart without brakes. Listening to Deafheaven can feel like any one of these things, and often at the same time, which is when they’re at their best.
The band’s fourth album is an unmistakably Deafheaven record, blending post-rock and growled black metal vocals, but trading out the unforgiving, charred textures of 2015’s New Bermuda with some of their brightest tapestries yet. It contains a few wrinkles to the formula, including traditionally sung vocals and the band’s first feature — guest work from goth folk artist Chelsea Wolfe on “Night People.” Whether they’re channeling Slayer or the Smashing Pumpkins, the result is easy to recognize.
Clarke is now long-haired, freshly 30, and sanguine about his band, which are three things he would not have imagined when the project began eight years ago. “I would have believed more that I wouldn’t have made it to 30 rather than [imagining] what 30 would be like,” he says. Despite feeling overexposed — Clarke recently ditched all non-Deafheaven social media accounts — he and his bandmates are significantly happier with the state of things than a few years ago, when touring behind New Bermuda nearly pushed them to the brink.
You can see the results at the live show. Deafheaven’s evolved dramatically from the early days of playing “super shy and frightened, or drunk and shy and frightened, which is worse,” as Clarke tells it. They expanded to a visceral, overwhelming five-piece in the aftermath of Sunbather, but there was always a compelling tension to Clarke’s approach. As the center of the storm, he would attempt to choreograph his motion to the surrounding chaos. “My goal was always to sort of physically embody what was happening musically because there’s a lot of these bigger instrumental passages where I don’t do much,” he says. He rarely communicated much to the crowd beyond sharp gesticulations.
Now, there is something closer to stage banter. Smiles are cracked, most likely originating from new bassist Chris Johnson. It’s not like they’ve always been emanating joy, but it’s much easier to be awestruck by how fun it looks to make this music come to life. If Deafheaven’s been known for anything, besides the supposed polarization, it’s how deftly they’ve managed to thread the needle between beauty and brutality. There’s little evidence that the former’s winning out elsewhere, but Clarke says the new approachable attitude is just an effect of how they’re all feeling about Deafheaven.
“It’s mostly just a reflection of where we’re at, in terms of happiness when we’re playing. I think we’ve really come to enjoy the band in the last year.”