If there’s one thing the world needs more of, it’s genres (right?) — and that’s why “Blackgaze” exists. It’s a left-field mutation of black metal — aggressive, hypercharged, frenetic and, if you’re true to the genre, deeply racist — and shoegaze, far out at the other end of the spectrum, coy and introspective in both style and spirit. After 2013’s Sunbather, Deafheaven have become critical darlings, and possibly the most recognisable exponents of this oddball sound concoction. With New Bermuda, their third full-length and follow up to Sunbather, they naturally had much to live up to.
A conspicuous lack of ridiculous costumes and face paint — not to forget the absence of any white supremacist leanings — means they lose out on some black metal cred, ascribing only to the aesthetics of the form and not the conventional ethos of it. But that sound does form the structural foundation of their music: breakneck sections of heavily melodic riffs centred around off-kilter progressions and vocal screeches delivered atop hysterical drum rhythms — processed through a trademark dismissal of production values (aka lo-fi).
It’s from within that framework, by subverting that framework, that the band crafts its identity, bringing in elements that seem unexpected at first, but soon enough become an indelible part of the music. Thick grooves on the drums appear at will to break the monotony of the double-bass assault; angry thrash riffs enter the fray every now and then; dreamlike post-rock/post-metal guitar melodies tug constantly as the yin to the yang of the heavier riffs; big booming arena rock guitar solos show up to stake their claim; songs close out with swaying piano outros. It all sounds really weird — and maybe it’s just the novelty or the element of surprise — but it just seems to fit within the context of the sound.
It’s interesting, for sure, but the album — 46 minutes spread across five long songs — can lead to a kind of metal fatigue for the listener. That should, of course, come with a personal caveat: I have nothing but disdain for most things metal (even if black metal does function as a kind of guilty pleasure). For fans of the genre — and even otherwise, considering the fluidity of the band’s sound — this seems like a fairly solid release.