Ever since their second album ’Sunbather’ became the best reviewed album of 2013 according to Metacritic, Deafheaven have gone from strength to strength, both critically and commercially.
Their third album, ‘New Bermuda’ (2015), cracked the Top 100 in the US and their fourth, ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ (2018), achieved the same feat here. Whilst the band are not the first act to blend black metal with shoegaze, they are certainly the most popular.
At tonight’s show, a joint headliner with Los Angeles post-hardcore innovators Touche Amore that features support from black metal/screamo crossover act Portrayal of Guilt, they play to their biggest London crowd (1500 people) yet.
Portrayal of Guilt play energetic and engaging music, but their set tonight fails to animate the crowd as one suspects it might at a show they were headlining. Touche Amore are up next, playing their debut album ‘To the Beat of a Dead Horse’ (2009) in full to mark its tenth anniversary, along with pretty much every song from across their discography that has ever gone down well in a live setting.
‘Honest Sleep’, ‘History Reshits Itself’, ‘Just Exist’, ‘Home Away from Here’, and ‘Skyscraper’ are my personal highlights, with frontman Jeremy Bolm doing a far better job of the latter song’s clean vocals than he did on earlier live iterations of it.
Deafheaven stride on stage slightly early with visible intent as the intro to the excellent ‘Honeycomb’ reverberates around the hall. To a rapturous response from the crowd, the band launch into a muscular, abrasive rendition of what is perhaps their happiest song (the lyrics concern strangers enjoying a lovely day in the park alongside one another).
As frontman George Clarke’s singing style is frequently indecipherable, scope for crowd singalongs at a Deafheaven gig is sparse, to put it mildly. However, that doesn’t stop the assembled fans singing along to the infectious double guitar solo to ‘Honeycomb’ provided by guitarists Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra.
‘Canary Yellow’ leads us to more sedate territory until Clarke’s Satanic-sounding vocals kick in around the two-and-a-half-minute mark. However, the gang vocals that conclude the song resemble a choral rendition of the outro to Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’.
The set shifts to unambiguously darker and heavier terrain with ‘New Bermuda’ opener ‘Brought to the Water’ and recent single ‘Black Brick’. The band then play ‘Worthless Animal’, a song whose tender instrumentation belies its lyrical themes of canine slaughter. As is often the case, Deafheaven close their set tonight with ‘Dream House’, the first song on ‘Sunbather’ and perhaps their best-loved song.
Towards the end, the crowd goes wild as members of Portrayal of Guilt and Touche Amore are brought on stage and Jeremy Bolm contributes some backing vocals before kissing Clarke. Whilst this was the shortest headline gig Deafheaven have played in London and covers considerably less material than their sets at KOKO and ULU did, the band imbue the songs with a brio and self-confidence I haven’t witnessed at their previous shows.
Overall, this was a more enjoyable performance than their gigs at Scala and KOKO and is thus the best one I have seen Deafheaven play yet.
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Words: Greg Hyde
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