Despite promising to reinvent their sound, Deafheaven only succeeds in reinventing the wheel.
Ever since their breakout record Sunbather, it feels like Deafheaven have been struggling to find their signature sound as a band. Each subsequent album seems to navigate a slightly different sonic terrain to the last, but none quite reach a cohesive basis for their musical ideas. 2015’s New Bermuda saw them abandoning the triumphant, sonorous melodies of their previous album for a darker, more aggressive tone. The band deviated even further from their blackgaze beginnings on Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, abandoning almost any semblance of black metal in favour of lush melodies punctuated with the occasional harsh shrieks of frontman George Clarke.
Given Deafheaven’s propensity for transcending genre boundaries, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when their latest record promised another reinvention of the band’s sound. Infinite Granite marks the band’s first project that almost completely eschews the band’s blackgaze stylings for a mellower, less abrasive blend of shoegaze and post-rock. Prior to release day, the album’s marketing permeated a sense of mystery, with a nostalgic 80s synthwave aesthetic and an anachronistic typeface to match. Deafheaven seemed to be declaring that not only was a new album coming, but it would represent a new mission statement for the band’s future.
Yet, for all of the very deliberate efforts to distinguish Infinite Granite from their previous work, it is an album which very much remains comfortably within the musical niche that the band has crafted over the past decade. While black metal elements may be conspicuous in their absence, Deafheaven have still very much stuck with the same heavily distorted post-rock sound that was the cornerstone of their previous records.
“it is an album which very much remains comfortably within the musical niche that the band has crafted over the past decade.”
Where heavier blackgaze sections on records like Ordinary Corrupt Human Love would flow into gentler passages, Deafheaven have instead crafted an album composed entirely of these same calmer sections. In fact, what is most disappointing about Infinite Granite is the way in which the rigidity of the songwriting creates an overly homogeneous listening experience which drastically harms the pacing of the album and makes the second half a far more tedious listen than it should be.
With opener Shellstar, the album starts off on steady ground with guitar work reminiscent of their earlier work and, despite the repetitive nature of the music, Dan’s drumming brings a much-needed intensity. These strengths continue on In Blur, with the addition of some flange-drenched jangly guitar and some gorgeous vocal melodies. Great Mass of Color and Neptune Raining Diamonds, which together form the highpoint of the album, make by far the best use of Deafheaven’s new softer sound. Lush guitar chords and tender, emotionally rich falsettos crescendo into an intense and cathartic climax on Great Mass of Color which ruminates amidst a swirling backdrop of chilling yet uplifting synths on Neptune Raining Diamonds.
The album hits its first roadblock on Lament for Wasps, a song which should form the centerpiece of the album, but instead foretells the monotonous and uninspired run of tracks that fill the back half. The new sounds that made the previous tracks interesting already begin to feel recycled, yet the album still has 25 more minutes of runtime. Infinite Granite does culminate with the impressive sounding Mombasa, but it all just feels too little too late for an album of which almost half the runtime is marred by genre tropes and, frankly, banal ideas.
Regardless of Deafheaven’s clear efforts to market Infinite Granite as a revitalisation of their sound, it simply doesn’t live up to the hype. It certainly has its moments, and there are glimmers of greatness throughout the tracklist, but it isn’t the drastic sonic shift that I and many others were hoping for. For a band that truly purports to have moved on and matured in sound, Deafheaven still appear to be clinging to vestiges of their past.
Favourite tracks: Great Mass of Color, Mombasa, In Blur
Less enjoyable tracks: Other Language, Lament for Wasps, The Gnashing