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Review: Deafheaven — Infinite Granite

The cover of Infinite Granite, by Deafheaven. 2021, Sargent House records.

Infinite Granite is a titan. In any other discography, it would look like a kind of beast, but in Deafheaven’s discography, it will be viewed as a bit of a minor note. It is anything but minor.

A lot of Deafheaven fans, genre purists (somehow not scared away by the last three records), and metalheads raw (once again, not run-off) are going to dismiss Infinite Granite out of hand in a number of ways. It’s “not a metal record,” or they’ve “sold out.” In the case of Selling Out, there’s nothing for Deafheaven to sell out to. This is Sargent House, not Sony. This is a new producer they brought in themselves, in Justin Meldal-Johnsen, a master of maximalism, per the band themselves, who some will guess, again out-of-hand, urged them toward a more subtle sound.

The case of Infinite Granite isn’t one of selling out so much as investing in yourself. The more apparent sounds have always been present. Kerry McCoy’s virtuoso guitar work is now front and center. Some will argue that The New George Clarke monopolizes the stage, and this is a fair account; if you look at the raw amount of minutes spent on guitar work, versus the raw amount of minutes spent on vocals and lyrics, the guitar wins out.

This is a story as old as rock ‘n’ roll itself: band evolves, fanbase runs. Kerry McCoy has threatened to unleash Low riffs and Red House Painters riffs, as well as alluding to the strictly-verboten Oasis two records ago on New Bermuda. Deafheaven’s greatest strength, one that shows through on Infinite Granite, is relentless, minute-to-minute risk-taking. This is the sound of a band shooting itself in the foot and playing through the pain. This time, they’re bleeding on their pedals instead of the double-kick drum.

Deafheaven has managed, through four major releases (one pre-Sunbather, the often-forgotten Roads to Judah), to hide a bit of a formula. Infinite Granite shows their hand a bit, making their quiet / loud / quiet peaks and valleys just that bit easier to see. Time was, before Infinite Granite, that you’d have a long string of loud, followed by, at most, on an eight to ten minute track, about one minute of shoegaze shine. A track like “In Blur”, a no-question album highlight, stands a little pale next to, say, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love‘s “Canary Yellow”. If you play the two next to each other, they follow a similar blueprint.

Infinite Granite raises a big question: does laying yourself bare invalidate the rest of your catalog? As noted previously in this review, everything we hear on the new album has been around in the old, calling back to the divisive shoegaze portions of Sunbather, the original sticking point where no one quite knew what to do with this band, past placing them on their year-end best-of lists and praying. Infinite Granite deserves similar recognition for different reasons: while maybe it’s not an album of the year contender, it’s a momentous occasion for Deafheaven, and far more than a footnote.

Look at what stays the same: you can understand George Clarke without lyrics in front of your face, but he’s hidden under layers of masking, so it’s really not all that easy to understand. Daniel Tracy remains one of the coolest drummers in music, never staying in one place, but remaining a propulsive force on each track, particularly album closer “Mombasa”. Staying with that track, the band does something very bold: in the last two minutes, they go full metal. Opening track “Shellstar” doesn’t show its hand in any way, being a cold, contemplative, shimmery piece. “Mombasa” nimbly glides through eleven years of Deafheaven sound, from Roads to Judah through Infinite Granite. A lot of people will cry for diminishing returns or a trick: Deafheaven, as always, are rewarding the faithful. “Did you stick with us? We stuck with you.”

Written by Adam Witt

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