LIVE: Deafheaven / Marriages @ The Scala, London

By Glen Bushell

In recent years, there have been few bands in the world of metal that divide opinion quite like Deafheaven. Their 2013 album ‘Sunbather’ was a glorious blend of lush shoegaze, and vitriolic black metal that polarized fans on either end of the spectrum. Regardless, it would become one of the most critically acclaimed albums of that year. Deafheaven now have the arduous task of trying to top ‘Sunbather’ with their forthcoming release ‘New Bermuda’ on their new home of ANTI-. Whether or not they will do that remains to be seen, but one thing you could never take away from Deafheaven is their ability to perform live.

On an incredibly wet Monday in the nation’s capital, a queue snakes around the outside of The Scala in Kings Cross that is filled with everyone from chin-stroking post rock fans, long haired black metal fanatics, and smartly dressed indie musos. It is an unlikely gathering of people, but one that shows the reach that Deafheaven have accomplished. This is a group of people who have chosen to ignore all the absurd hyperbole that sometimes comes with this style of music. They are simply here to enjoy one of the most inventive and intriguing bands in heavy music today.

Before that, we have the pleasure of a performance from Los Angeles rock band Marriages. To call them a rock band is, of course, a very general term. As their stunning album ‘Salome’ proved earlier this year that they are almost impossible to categorise. Through the dreamy haze of ‘Ten Tiny Toes’, and the pummeling post-metal leaning of ‘The Liar’, they remain captivating at all times. Frontwoman Emma Ruth Rundle casts a fragile presence, but her soaring vocal fills every corner of the room. Particularly as you feel every thread of emotion in her voice during ‘Less Than’, before they close with ‘Part The Dark Again’, and make their exit from a mesmerising set.

The tension and excitement that is thick in the air can be cut with a knife at this point, as even the mere sight of the headlining band members setting up their equipment garners cheers from the crowd. Nothing compared to the rapturous applause that greets Deafheaven when they finally emerge – launching directly into the new single ‘Brought To The Water’. Though suffering through sound issues (all snare drum and vocal) it is corrected, and becomes a dominating force so that all is forgiven. Far more at the metallic end of their arsenal, this first offering of ‘New Bermuda’ works even better in a live setting, and they may be well on their way to outdoing their previous album.

From here on out, it is nothing but “hits” from Deafheaven. Having been playing some of these songs live for nearly 2 years, the euphoric beauty of ‘Sunbather’ has been honed to perfection, and the brutal ‘From The Kettle Onto The Coil’ sounds more ferocious as people have become better acquainted. Ever the performer, frontman George Clarke is marvellous to watch as he commands the audience, and feeds off the energy he receives from them. Live, his vocal is even more reminiscent of Ishan, from black metal legends Emperor, but over the frenetic blast beats that underlie Kerry McCoy’s warm guitar tone during ‘The Pecan Tree’ – they sound like no band other than Deafheaven.

Though allotted over an hour set time, it flies by as you become lost in the spectacle. Before you know where you are, the dizzying cacophony of ‘Unrequited’ is rattling you to your very core. Ending with a My Bloody Valentine-esque wall of noise that feels like your chest is about to collapse. Of course, their set would not be complete without the colossal ‘Dream House’ that twists and turns between the sublime and the terrifying, and has the entire room fixated on the stage until it reaches its climatic 10 minute ending.

Make no mistake about it – whether you love or hate them – Deafheaven are one of the most important bands in heavy music today. By transcending not just metal, but any genre descriptor they are labelled, they have carved their name into alternative music and refuse to go anywhere. With ‘New Bermuda’ showing great promise from just one song, the sky is the limit for them.