There is a fortunate truth that occurs at a Deafheaven show. All the intellectualizing that surrounds the progressive metal band, including ideas of where they fit into the black metal community or whether their songs are watered down to appeal to fans usually turned off by extreme music, disintegrates within immersion. Such debates are better suited for Twitter rants than for real-world experience, and Deafheaven’s live presentation is a reminder of how big of a bubble the internet can create around us. Some bands demand to be seen and heard rather than talked about, and Deafheaven is a prime example.
It didn’t take long into their Friday set at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, their first of two nights, for the band to stomp their boots down and shine some light as to why they have found relative success. Screeching frontman George Clarke stands over his audience with his chest puffed out, his chin up, and his arms either pointed toward the rafters or reaching out for the hands of his fans. He likes touching and likes being touched, seeing the band’s many gentle moments as an opportunity to connect eyes with a crowd-surfer, to feel the audience’s sweat, and to encourage all to “get closer,” which comes across as both a figurative and literal request.
It all reminds more of a hardcore show than a metal one in both its emotional release and its energy, embracing pretty moments so that when the music pummels, and it often does, the juxtaposition isn’t just sharp; it’s salient. With guitarist Kerry McCoy continually sticking his hand into the song’s wet cement and tireless drummer Daniel Tracy able to seamlessly shift between gears, the 10-minute songs don’t merely request the crowd’s attention. They command it.
It all might seem like lofty praise to bestow on the young band, whose recent New Bermuda picked right up where 2013’s excellent Sunbather left off. But there’s a reason that Deafheaven have proved so divisive, why they have seen so many feel the need to take a stand on whether the band is pushing the limits of genre or dulling its edges. Both live and on record, they are looking for reactions, doing everything within the power of music to elicit them. And hopefully, by being very good, they can serve as both conversation starters and enders.