“I’ve always loved black metal and identified it with an emotional time, but if you ever see me with a spiked jacket on, I just look like a douchebag,” says Clarke, his affable mien shining through a crackling Skype connection. This down-to-earth attitude alone separates Deafheaven pretty neatly from black metal’s more metaphysical or occult-minded practitioners, and Clarke’s description of the rundown, cramped apartment he shares with McCoy and Clark (“We live in absolute squalor—that’s just how it goes”) suggests that macabre, rock & roll glamor is the pretty much the last thing on their minds. They’re too busy honing the actual music.
Accordingly, in grandness of vision alone, Sunbather feels light years away from their charmingly raw, 2010 demo EP. “It’s everything that we’ve been wanting to do, punched up a notch,” says Clarke. “The metal parts are more metal, and the nonmetal parts are much more nonmetal.” Guitarist Kerry McCoy interjects from somewhere in the background that “everything just got faster and poppier at the same time,” and it’s true. Gently rustling ambient passages and glistening guitar melodies trade off with full-on metal squall, dexterously timed to ensure that each extreme amplifies the visceral impact of its opposite. Deafheaven have never exactly been brimming with metal cred, but they’ve never cared, either; they’ve simply taken what they know and like, and tried to create something destructive and beautiful in equal measure. “Obviously there’s thought given to the record, but, dude, you’re sitting on the couch and you write a cool riff and everyone’s like, Yeah, that’s sick, and you use it. There’s nothing terribly otherwordly about it.” Deafheaven are a bunch of young dudes who dig craft, sarcasm and simplicity, and it’s those qualities that will take them further—not an image, not a brand and not a whiff of bullshit.