Oran Barr, Contributor.
Following the critical acclaim of their breakthrough album Sunbather (2013) and the tepid response to their follow-up New Bermuda (2015), San-Francisco based band Deafheaven are back with their fourth studio album Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is an endearingly experimental example of why people have trouble discerning exactly which genre of music Deafheaven belong to. Despite being described as ‘blackgaze’ due to their unique blend of euphoric, reverb-laden shoegaze instrumentation with George Clarke’s relentless black metal inspired vocals, they also borrow heavily from a broad range of genres that they are close to impossible to pin down.
Considering they already present an innovative and unusual brand of music, it’s easy to think that after a few studio albums their material could run out of grounds for experimentation, yet their latest album is by far the most artistically liberated, varied, and compelling work they’ve produced. Granted, this album is by far their softest album in terms of black metal influences. It can sometimes even stray into musical passages that wouldn’t feel out of place in an indie or post-rock song. Yet heavier tracks like ‘Honeycomb’, ‘Glint’ and ‘Worthless Animal’ coupled with Clarke’s guttural, piercing screams and blast-beats don’t feel at all out of place beside these lighter tracks on the album. However, many of the lighter tracks, including the opener ‘You Without End’, provide temporary relief in the form of guitarist Kerry McCoy’s languid and hazy melodies before hurtling you headfirst again into the harrowing abyss that Clarke creates with his gullet. Consequently, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is clearly Deafheaven’s most diverse catalogue of songs to date.
Strikingly, two songs on the album, ‘Near’ and ‘Night People’, feature clean vocals in what is a first for the band, with the former sounding like something produced by Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine, and the latter some confusion of synth pop and indie. I find ‘Night People’ to be not only the weakest track on the album, but one of the weakest in the band’s discography. However, it is a clear example of the ambition with which the band have approached this album as a whole and for me, on every track except this one, their intentions were executed with immaculate clarity.
An exceptional level of nuance is needed to create tracks that transition seamlessly between such juxtaposing genres of music, but each thoughtfully and deliberately constructed track ensures this album’s pacing feels extremely organic, regardless of the massive fluctuations in tone throughout. This organic feel is mirrored in Clarke’s fantastic lyrics, as while they remain highly cryptic, they certainly take a turn towards naturalistic surrealism in this album – deftly weaving through dreamscapes of “purple sand verbena” and “earthly pottery of existence” before culminating in the macabre image of cradling a “soft canine” corpse that’s been stabbed in the ribs. The metaphorical implications of landscapes and animals forms a strong thread from song to song.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a masterfully balanced, cinematic, composition that further expands the band’s sound by amplifying the blues rock, shoegaze and post-rock elements of their music whilst still reinforcing all the black metal elements that make them so astoundingly unique initially. It has everything you’d expect from a Deafheaven album, and so much more you wouldn’t; there’s at least one song on here for fans of anything from dreampop to black metal.