Deafheaven

support Inter Arma
author AP date 20/09/18 venue Lille VEGA, Copenhagen, DEN

Deafheaven’s popularity shows no signs of abating in the wake of their fourth studio album, “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love”, which was released this past summer. The smaller hall at VEGA is chock full of the San Franciscan blackgazers’ regional fans when I arrive shortly before the opening act, and that same buzz that has surrounded them ever since “Sunbather” was unleashed upon the world in 2013, still lingers prominently in the air, as the weekend gets to an early start in the company of one of the best live acts in the world right now. I grab a beer and strategically position myself at the very centre of the venue, eager to capture every ounce of what Deafheaven and indeed the support band have in store for us tonight.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Inter Arma

Hailing out of Richmond, VA, this band embodies the spirit of eclecticism like no other, covering so much ground during their 45-minute performance that it leaves me none the wiser as to what genre Inter Arma would like to belong to than it did at KB18 four years ago. Over the course of their set, the Virginian group touches upon black, sludge, post-, and psychedelic doom metal, leaving the audience visibly perplexed yet also intrigued by the angular riffs, bizarre time signatures, ferocious growls that characterise their music. But although the songs, for the most part, stage a frontal assault on aesthetics and warp the conventional idea of songwriting, the likes of “Transfiguration” and “‘sblood" (the latter taken from 2013’s “Sky Burial”) nonetheless coil themselves around a series of almost Meshuggah-ish jazz grooves by drummer T.J. Childers, that keep the songs from disintegrating and ensure that our heads can still bang to their rhythm. Childers is a phenomenal drummer, too, his performance resembling Tomas Haake’s in skill and coordination, and Kadavar’s Christoph ‘Tiger’ Bartelt in terms of physical intensity — and as such he is the perfect fit for a band overall exhibiting a high degree of showmanship throughout.

But while guitarists Trey Dalton & Steven Russell, and bassist Joe Kerkes certainly tick all the boxes of what is expected of an axeman in the live setting, most of the spotlight that is not shining on Childers is nonetheless hawked by vocalist Mike Paparo’s imposing personage. Whether towering over us on one of the monitors, collapsing onto his knees in exhaustion or headbanging with a violence seldom seen, everything about Paparo exudes authority as it should be when you are helming a band as devastating, dissonant and eerie in its expression as Inter Arma. These elements are heightened by an ominous light production to create something that looks, feels and — above all — sounds like a window into the future of metal; something elusive and unholy, like an amalgam of LLNN, Meshuggah, Tombs and Ufomammut. None of this came through with any sort of clarity at that concert four years ago, but here, within the confines of VEGA, the mystery unravels at last, allowing Inter Arma to make a lasting impression on the fabric of my memory.

8

Deafheaven

If asked to namedrop some artists whose live performances are yet to disappoint me, Deafheaven would figure high up on my list. And as expected, even though the bar is set high by the opening act, the headliner is quick to assure us that they deserve all of the praise critics and fans alike have been heaping into the band’s account over the past five years. Gloved up and looking like a cross between Trent Reznor and a young Marilyn Manson, George Clarke certainly lives up to his reputation as one of the absolute best frontmen in metal at the moment, sparing no breath and wasting no stage space in letting his expressionistic showmanship unfold. Even when tracks like the opener, “Honeycomb”, take on an instrumental character, Clarke simply retreats toward the drumkit and starts to wave his arms like a musical conductor, acutely aware of the enormous, nigh classical scope of Deafheaven’s music. This is a relatively new aspect of his performance, however, as on previous occasions, Clarke has had a tendency to steal the spotlight from his colleagues even when it is they who truly shine during a cinematic post-rock segment in a song like “Worthless Animal” or a transcendental crescendo such as in “Canary Yellow”. It is a wise choice, one which allows the rest of the band to really stand out as the talented musicians and, as it turns out, performers that they are.

Clarke’s longtime collaborator, guitarist Kerry McCoy, especially, seems to have lost his inhibitions and found the confidence both to unfix his eyes from his instrument and to be puppeteered by the music to exert himself as well. Indeed, when the whips out those fantastic ‘90s alt-rock-style melodies and solos in “Honeycomb” and “Brought to the Water”, he is quite happy to be rocking out wildly — and he might even be grinning while he does it, as far as I can see. Speaking of, the initial half of “Brought to the Water” is the only injection of darkness into an otherwise bright and uplifting setlist, the main focus of which naturally is the aforementioned latest outing, “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love”. If you really had to find something negative to say about the concert, then perhaps it would be the relative lack of counterweight to the tone of the material featuring on that record and “Sunbather”, off which we are treated to the title track, as well as the iconic “Dream House” at the end of the encore. It really would be a stretch, however, to force such critique into an experience that leaves me feeling elated and completely revitalised.

Still, while this is without a doubt the rosiest, most Panglossian concert from Deafheaven that I have borne witness to yet — cheekily accentuated by lighting that mostly alternates between pink and cyan and carnival colours — it is not lacking intensity at all. At this volume, the music still hits you like an avalanche, while the frenzied antics and earsplitting screams of Clarke introduce an oddly sinister veneer to the songs even when they are at their sunniest. The fickleness of “Glint” provides a great example of the darkness that still lurks beneath the surface of Deafheaven’s odes to everyday love on their latest album, and the consummate highlight of the evening for me personally. Truthfully though, the show delivers highlights galore and further cements Deafheaven as one of the most exciting bands in the world right now, metal or otherwise.

9

Setlist:

  • 01. Honeycomb
  • 02. Canary Yellow
  • 03. Sunbather
  • 04. Brought to the Water
  • 05. Worthless Animal

— Encore —

  • 06. You Without End
  • 07. Glint
  • 08. Dream House

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