There are few commonalities between the melancholy drone of shoegazing and the furious assault of black metal, which makes finding common ground tricky work. Even hybrid groups like France’s Alcest and China’s Dopamine tend to downplay aggression for atmospherics. But with their second full-length, Sunbather, San Francisco’s Deafheaven carve out the perfect middle ground between Slowdive and Marduk. Three of the songs clock in at nine minutes or more, giving the band plenty of space to ebb and flow between brutality and bliss. The opening track “Dream House” sets the pace with nearly 30 seconds of hazy guitar distortion before bursting into grinding guitars, effect-saturated hooks, thunderous blast beats and roaring demonic vocals. As schizophrenic as the blend sounds on paper, the album coheres beautifully because Deafheaven have discovered the point where delicate enervation and furious despair meet, and they’ve mapped it from every angle.
Parts of Sunbather, like the undistorted instrumental “Irresistible,” are reflective and textural, while the title track is more aggro, contrasting ringing guitar melodies with a swarming distortion and shifting between slow, tumbling drums and blastbeat tempos. “Please Reminder” melds three minutes of Skullflower-style chainsaw noise collage with another three minutes of soft, lazy strumming, while “Windows” combines apocalyptic spoken word with haunting ambient feedback. But it’s the longer tunes, including “Vertigo” and “Pecan Tree” where Deafheaven discard any sense of artsy pretension for mesmeric compositions filled with yearning, violence and beautiful sadness.