Is it blissful?
It’s like a dream
I want to dream‘
Surely you’ve seen this quote being meme’d to high hell and back, and surely you’ve seen about a trillion more memes floating around about both Deafheaven and their 2013 sophomore release Sunbather. What you might not know – in case the memes and jokes were your only point of interaction with this band and album – is that this album slaps. It’s really, really good, even beyond the humorous takes on it (which I, too, have enjoyed on many occasions), so it’s nice to give it some love, a few days after its eighth anniversary no less. I can’t believe it’s been this long already, to be honest – the storm of adoration and hatred it kindled still feels fresh in my mind.
That’s quite enough from me, though. Below, you will find EIN members Inter, Eeli, and Carlos’ takes on this massively popular (and equally influential) piece of black metal history. Enjoy!
It’s wild to think that I was right in the middle of the digital beehive when Deafheaven released Sunbather back in ‘13. I remember how the band took over the spotlight on every social media platform imaginable: the praises, the intrigues, the endless tirades about the sanctity and value of the metal genre as a whole, and I was just there… genuinely confused about it all. It wasn’t that their sonic proposal was completely foreign to me – I was already familiar with bands of similar sounds such as Alcest, Heretoir, and Altar of Plagues. I held no animosity towards the band for staining the so-called trueness of metal either (which is total nonsense, mind you). My guess would be that I didn’t quite grasp the sudden impact the album had caused in the music world by then, so I didn’t pay attention to what was unfolding whatsoever.
Just like with everything that is novel or misunderstood, it took me five years to properly give into it, to fully understand the scope and influence of what Deafheaven had accomplished here. The music on Sunbather isn’t exactly new, yet there is a particular atmosphere that simply felt different. A certain je ne sais quoi that was instantly gravitating emotionally and a variety of musical styles that was concocted with such great care. Hell, it has been eight years since its release and here we are dedicating a full article about it. This for sure is a testament of the legacy the band had left with Sunbather.
The obvious winning formula of this album for me is the seamless blend of shoegaze and black metal. Again, the integration of these two rather opposing subgenres is nothing new, but I would go out on a limb and say that Deafheaven perfected it, or at least brought it to a cohesiveness not heard before. The band succeeded in establishing a common musical ground that is absolutely blistering, but ethereal. A sound that pulverizes the senses but rearranges them in a way akin to a transcendental rite of passage.
Songs like “Dream House” and “Vertigo” still sound as fresh as ever to this day, with an intensity that still goes unmatched and a vibrancy that certainly never lost its spark. It is no surprise that these tracks have served as a de facto blueprint for the blackgaze scene that developed after the release of Sunbather. Even the contrasts between songs with ravaging riffs and blast beats, and the forlorn yet nostalgic interludes such as “Irresistible” and “Remember Me” – coupled with frontman George Clarke’s urgency in his lyrical delivery – channels a record that is more than just a record. There’s a conversation here slowly unraveling and brimming with an emotional depth that truly shatters the conventions found in shoegaze and black metal alike.
Memes and detractors aside, Deafheaven delivered an album that proved to stand the test of time and is undisputedly a landmark for heavy music in general. If you haven’t listened to Sunbather yet, I encourage you to give it a spin at least once; I assure you will not find anything quite like it.
In 2013, the world turned upside down for some cvlty black metal fans. A band who were already “controversial” within the genre released an album that could count as the epitome of poser shit, pink cover and mainstream music media coverage included. While there were records from the black metal world which transcended into a more mainstream audience before (met with equally annoyed ‘poser shit’ comments), Deafheaven‘s Sunbather brought a whole new level to that controversy.
In retrospect, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Despite having an at least partially conservative, troublesome audience, black metal proved itself again and again as one of the more progressive genres in metal. Playing with its grim, desparate, and bleak atmosphere while dabbling with similar atmospheric genres like shoegaze and post-rock was about to happen. It just needed people brave enough to go the extra step. Of course you have to name Alcest, but I’m a bit hesitant to praise them lately, since the involvement of Neige with French NSBM band Peste Noire in the past becomes increasingly harder to overlook.
I could spend some more words praising Sunbather, but I think you’ve heard enough of it already. If you appreciate it or if you’re annoyed by it is up to you. By now, the coverage and hype surrounding Deafheaven‘s second album became a meme, and it’s doing a disservice to an album that still holds up to its own established greatness. The real greatness, though, at least for me, is the way Sunbather paved the way for a new branch of black metal. It inspired artists to go unconventional ways within the genre, and you can feel the impact every day. Besides all the praise the album received, and all the praise I still have for it as an artistical statement, I’m primarily grateful for Sunbather making black metal less exclusive and more colorful. A shade of pink in a monochromatic sky can’t hurt.
What to say about an album that has been nothing short of a persistent pinnacle in the topic of what’s musically right and what’s wrong, what’s correct and what isn’t, for nearly a decade? I pondered this for a while, and then came to a conclusion that all I can really do is to offer my two trifle cents on a subject matter that has been endlessly scrutinized, picked apart, and assembled again by an innumerable amount of people before me. Opinions on Sunbather are more or less constant, but it’s the personal experience that makes it unique for everyone.
When it comes to forming my own impression about the record, I’d say I was quite fortunate to be absent from all social media platforms during its release. Nowadays its extremely difficult to delve into anything without prejudice, as more often than not we’ve seen someone either directly or indirectly mentioning about this cool/amazing/terrible album we definitely should/shouldn’t check out, over here or there. I’m certainly an advocate for digging into everything with an open mind, but these secondary views tend to die hard, and at the very least, inhabit some kind of a (hopefully very) minuscule corner in our minds.
But back in the day it was different to an extent, since while you could still get recommendations and whatnots from your close circles, you weren’t involuntarily subjected to this social media sewage where every random person’s opinion is the most important and significant one, being indifferent to any and all divergents. Back in the day, which seems like aeons ago, you could just spot a new album either through an ad or on some streaming platform, and hop in. That’s what I did with Deafheaven’s second album Sunbather, having not heard a thing about the effort, let alone about the band, prior to that moment.
The first time I listened to it – I kid you not – was on a scorching hot late summer day during a barefoot walk on a sand road, with a lake on my right and a forest on my left. Soon it felt like walking through an emotional fog, being carried onwards by something bigger than myself, every note and hit accentuating every single step I took, and I was thoroughly addicted to this unprecedented wall of sound forcing its way down my ears and draping my entire body. I had never experienced anything like that before, and something similar has happened only a few times since.
Thinking about it now, I’d say it was quite the crucial listen for a kid who had just turned eighteen two months prior, both due to its musical significance, but also because of this earth-shattering discovery value that one comes across very rarely. So I was well swept off my feet, and an hour later I was the one sending messages to everyone, saying that they need to listen to this.
It is exactly because of this experience that I had no issues in believing the fact that Sunbather unquestionably became a cornerstone in its own genre, and that it did so very quickly, when I later on became aware of the praise and recognition it deservedly enjoyed then – in which it eloquently basks to this day. And it’s because of the abovementioned open-mindedness that I perceive in myself that I find it amusing how hurt people got over the album’s acknowledgment and achievements. But I still understand that, as Sunbather is a perfect example of a polarising effort – you either love it or you don’t. And there’s nothing in between. I belong to the former group, by the way.
I could’ve easily gone into unsolicited excourse about the exact reasons why the album struck me the way it did by detailing every single nuance and aspect on every single song; hell, I could’ve done that with every single part on any given track. But I feel that’d all be futile in the end, since Sunbather needs to be experienced as a whole to be understood, it being more than a sum of its parts after all. It also feels weird to write about this, since – as said earlier on – it feels like everyone has already heard it, and everyone has an adamant take on it. Certainly if you, my dear reader, felt otherwise about it than I do, you wouldn’t even be here. I guess it’s just too juicy of an opportunity to pass, to be able to rub a handful of sand to the eyes of all purists, omniscient nerds, and stuck-up traditionalists alike.