Infinite Granite by DeafheavenRelease date: August 20, 2021
Label: Sargent House
The first words George Clarke sings on Infinite Granite, the much-anticipated new album from Deafheaven, are “Nothing changes”. Well, there’s a few considerable changes with this new record as the San Francisco quintet have reached deep into their creative minds to deliver an incredible collection of pulsating songs. The band whose crossover album featured a glorious pink album cover, containing a hybrid of black metal and shoegaze, are no strangers to fucking with your head. So after a run of stunning albums that were relentless in volume (for the most part) to take the steps they have with this record, borders on the bloody reckless. Unless you happen to be like me and found the lighter shades of their music more appealing. The aforementioned Sunbather album was a gateway to a whole area of metal that I had never ventured into before. I’ve never looked back and heard some incredible music because of these guys.
The artwork to Infinite Granite also deserves a mention before we come to the music. Created by Nick Steinhardt, what appears at first to be a blue circle is actually a long exposure photo of an animation program designed to move in response to music. Apparently, the cover is a visual representation of the drones that introduce ‘Shellshock’, the first track on the album, with connotations of the darkness of an ultrasound image of an empty womb.
When ‘Great Mass of Color’ was sneaked out as the first track from the album I couldn’t believe my ears. Surely the band wouldn’t be leaving behind their trademark sound and George’s notorious pained screech? But here he is crooning out some astounding melodies and holy shit, what a chorus. Hold on, chorus? Deafheaven? No! Yes! The swaggering guitars that accompany that beauty of a chorus hark back to heavier tones, but the stellar production on the album, courtesy of Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83 and Wolf Alice) elevates that mighty roar to another level of depth. The blast beats from drummer Daniel Tracy are gone, replaced with some dexterous and skittery snare work that might be the final straw for some. George lets rip with his familiar growl as the song winds to a tumultuous end, those undeniably guttural howls actually feel welcome as the departure from before is a little difficult to absorb at first.
If you hadn’t already heard the pre-release tracks you’d swear you were listening to another band with opener ‘Shellshock’. When the chorus shifts up the volume there is still no indication this is Deafheaven, as you know them. The shimmering weightless guitars appear heavily influenced by Cocteau Twins and there’s another link to that legendary band. Noticeably even when singing clean, it’s nigh on impossible to pick up most of the lyrics, as George’s singing style here echoes Liz Frazer and her bizarre pronunciation of words. When the guitars finally get unleashed there’s a hint of familiarity as a grandiose roar of distortion fills the space. When the song lurches into the final passage the layers of multiple voices, guitars and melody is euphoric and immense.
The glorious ‘In Blur’ reels you in with some lovely airy guitars that have a familiar ring to them. Every time I hear George sneer “imagine you laughin’…” it twists my heart. The chorus effortlessly rises asking “what does daylight look like?” and you wonder how George managed to keep these sweet melodies under wraps for so many years. Must have been hell. It feels kind of weird hearing Deafheaven play a song with a standard verse chorus verse structure and I know this is going to aggravate some fans, but it’s perfection to these ears. The swooning guitar solo that flies high, over some kooky yelps is a thing of beauty. The melodies writhe around intermingling with an unbridled joy and once again, another song ends leaving you treading the water of a lake of tears.
The brief instrumental ‘Neptune Raining Diamonds’ featuring layered synths and broken steam pipe blasts, acts as an interlude between ‘Great Mass of Color’ and what I consider Deafheaven’s finest song yet, the astounding ‘Lament For Wasps’. When I first heard this song it absolutely floored me. Wasting no time, the song finds George nailing an emotive and incredible vocal delivery and gorgeous melody. Nothing can prepare you for the arena busting chorus that booms with a perfect mix of pop melody and furious metallic guitars. Given the right exposure, this is the song that transforms Deafheaven into megastars. Fuck it. I don’t want this to happen. I don’t want the masses hearing this music and contorting this band into something else. Thankfully the band seem to feel this pain too as they crank up the volume momentarily and George unleashes another few black metal howls. Deafheaven have allowed themselves reflective moments before in their heavier songs, but the dynamics of ‘Lament For Wasps’ hits so many peaks and valleys it’s one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. By the end, Daniel has remembered his penchant for kick drum heft and the beats become more hectic once again.
Daniel’s over exuberant drums at the start of ‘Villain’ are the only moment I would change on this record, I just find them out of place with the atmospheric guitars that fly above them. The song is the first to feel its way along, eschewing the formalised structure of the previous songs. Once the rest of the band catch up with the wayward drummer, it becomes a different beast entirely, momentarily slowing before an almighty clatter of beats and enormous guitars swallow you up with some sublime melodies. When George unleashes some furious howls, I’m utterly swept away from a world that hurts to a much brighter place. The sheer power of this music has seriously helped me in the last few weeks since I’ve lived with this record. (Albeit not being able to talk about how good it is has been another kind of hell!).
So, ‘The Gnashing’ was the indicator to everyone that the bulk of Infinite Granite was going to be clean vocals and an emphasis on a more moderate metal sound. The guitars certainly provide a more raucous element of noise and the screeching solos are just fucking stupendous near the end. It’s apparent that Deafheaven thought this was the record to truly allow themselves the freedom to just do whatever the fuck they wanted. We are the benefactors of this though as there is barely a wasted note on this album and there is a shitload of notes on it. The interplay between Kerry McCoy’s raging slabs of distortion and Shiv Mehra’s fluid textures and melodic ear is truly mesmerising throughout this record. They are absolute masters of their craft and all of this is ably underpinned by bassist Chris Johnson’s immense grooves.
The shoegaze element of Deafheaven’s sound is really pushed to the fore at the start of ‘Other Language’ as the Ride-esque guitar tones and vocals, make for soothing listening. By this stage of the album, you’ll either have turned away in disgust or you’ll be accepting of whatever Deafheaven have created. The initial passage seems to drift along for twice the length it actually does, and it may even appear to outstay it’s welcome, but the song is essentially a two-parter and the latter evolves into a seismic eruption of huge guitars and rippling muscular drums. This feels like the right time for George to split into two and the mix of clean and growled vocals that interchange over the cacophony is astonishing.
So, to the final track, they can’t fuck this up now surely? That’s what I found myself thinking on the first run through. Beginning with acoustic guitars, ‘Mombasa’ drifts woozily into your headspace, a country ballad no less, with twanging guitars and George tenderly singing into your ear. Flittering synth tones burble under the mix and things really do take on a weird hue as the song seems indifferent to any form of metallic edge. But hold on, as you are gently swept along the calm waters are getting choppier. Wait…from out of nowhere George rasps an anguished howl and then we’re off, over the edge of the waterfall, twisting, turning, banging off rocks and hurtling along, propelled on Daniel’s mighty blast beats and Kerry’s piledriving guitars. We’re back in the throes of prime Deafheaven here, being pummelled from all directions, it’s utterly glorious and the tumultuous rage engulfs you before coming to a shocking abrupt halt. They don’t even let the fucking thing fade. That’s’ it. Over in a flash, like being transposed to dust by some nuclear blast.
I resisted sitting myself down to write this review, I felt sick at the thought of trying to describe to you how good it is. How exactly this music makes me feel. I’ve been listening to it religiously every day now for a few weeks and every play brings new levels of discovery. Every play unleashes new sounds that I’ve missed, such is the complexity of the layers of melodies and tones. Then there’s the moments where you just get swept along with the sheer immensity of the sound. Deafheaven have taken one incredibly brave step to veer into these sonic territories. Weirdly, a lot of negative comments I have read previously about Deafheaven have pertained to George’s vocals. There will be more of those I have no doubt for this record, but in a different way. Well, I find his singing voice wondrous, and these songs deserve and need this style. It makes you wonder what their back catalogue might have sounded like if George had stayed away from the black metal vocals. If you haven’t already observed from my sycophantic analysis, it turns out that Deafheaven are actually one of my favourite bands. Several of their previous albums have featured as my album of the year. Infinite Granite is going to be another album of the year. Fuck it, Infinite Granite by Deafheaven is one of the finest albums ever recorded.