Once again shedding the skin of their previous work, shocking their fans, Deafheaven have emerged from the shadows with a beacon of light — Infinite Granite. This marks the band’s sixth studio release and is arguably showing the group of young artists in their greatest state of maturation. Before, when gloom was represented (always beautifully) through relentless black-metal guitars and guttural screams, Infinite Granite shows Deafheaven resourcefully saving these moments of sorrow.
Always having a theatrical sensibility, sometimes wandering into long post-rock influenced instrumentals, this record trims the fat. Deafheaven uses the confines of a six- or seven-minute song to its maximum potential, without extending to eleven-minute pieces. There was never a doubt that they were progressive songwriters, though. Since their first record, Roads to Judah, they’ve been pushing the boundaries of what was considered possible in the context of heavy music. From the first track, “Shellstar”, we’re eased into the album by light synth ambience, hushed vocals and poppy drums. Infinite Granite begins with a profound departure from the bands’ previous work.
With Justin Meldal-Johnsen at the producer’s helm, there is plenty of credit due for the execution of this new sound. Meldal-Johnsen, having formerly worked with Paramore and M83, came to the project a complete outsider. He was able to give the band the objective feedback they needed to make this bold transition. Is this Deafheaven’s pop record? Not exactly. That would write off the brilliance of this album. It’s still heavy, even though the screams are practically nowhere to be found, and the blast beats are kept at bay.
Many of these tracks feature subdued vocals, a juxtaposition to the rare moments of escalating screams on a track like “Villain”. If you’re a die-hard fan of the group, it’s probably quite shocking on your first listen. There are still more than enough moments of dark ambient glory that older fans will appreciate. Even on Roads to Judah, their first record, Deafheaven was not entirely a metal band nor were they entirely dream-pop. The influence of groups like Slowdive have always been there, alongside influence from Burzum or Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
“In Blur” is a beach-ready hit. The surf rock energy of the guitars and reverberated vocals calls back to moments on Sunbather. Clarke’s vocals are at their most melancholy here, possible Britpop influence. Listen closely, you can hear faint traces of The London Suede’s rupturing, depressive tunes.
The big thing keeping Infinite Granite from the sound of Sunbather or Roads To Judah, is the lack of metal crescendos towards the end of songs. Although, Deafheaven haven’t abandoned their flair for the dramatic, the heavier moments of this record feel earned because of the balanced textures in the production. Instead of a “rise and fall” sound, Infinite Granite savors the dream-pop tunes for as long as they can, buying themselves time for the melancholy moments of grandeur.
In several articles, Clarke has mentioned the major shift in early writing sessions. Back in 2019, they got back to grind but the heavy hitters weren’t showing up like before. Tonally, Clarke wanted to take a clean approach to the vocals on this album. The lyrics are still treading the delicate yet powerful material that they always have.
“Neptune Raining Diamonds” is an instrumental, ambient interlude that splits the album. Lucious synthesizer plays against arpeggiated keys. It sounds like the ocean. Its title invokes images of a hazy blue atmosphere, and the sounds accompanying it are just as ethereal. Then there is “Lament for Wasps”, rushing in like a mighty wave. There are moments of intensity. The guitars have that distinctive shoegaze echo, with melodic riffs dazzling the track.
Singer George Clarke has spoken several times about the influences from Ride and Radiohead. This influence is very apparent given the twists-and-turns the group is known for taking. Although Deafheaven’s sound is quite different from these influences, their chameleon approach to songwriting places them in a category with such groups.
Clarke has said that “The Gnashing” reflects on the loss of a child from the mother’s perspective. Towards the end, the song feels like the finale to a grand performance, a sort of finale only Deafheaven could write. Like The Cure’s Disintegration, Infinite Granite’s use of cinematic synthesizers build an atmosphere that escalates throughout the album. In “Mombasa”, the blast beats return for the grand finale. It’s oddly fitting that the record making the biggest statement, would end with a wink to their older preferences. Clarke’s shrieking voice echoes on seemingly forever, the record drawing to a close, the beauty that began the record fades into an ugly scream.