A shimmering, seething product of an unstable year, Deafheaven’s brand new live record, 10 Years Gone, commemorates a decade of the troupe’s inimitable brand of experimental post-metal. As beloved oldies like From The Kettle To The Coil sit aside scolding new cuts for the first time, Matt Taylor reflects on an album and career worthy of metal’s history books.
Post-metal titans Deafheaven entered 2020 with no plans to release an album, but circumstances dictated otherwise. A planned North American tour to celebrate their tenth year as a band was scrapped for obvious reasons (which I am sure we’re all sick of discussing at this point), and the intended setlist has instead been adapted into 10 Years Gone, a newly recorded live-in-studio compilation album that may well be the best introduction for the uninitiated into their brand of bruising and beautiful shoegaze-indebted black metal.
The track list differs greatly from any tour they have done in recent years, foregrounding songs from their 2013 breakthrough album Sunbather as well as lesser-heard cuts from their 2010 demo and 2011’s Roads To Judah. Most welcome of all is fan-favourite single From The Kettle To The Coil, which opens the record and finally gets the spotlight it deserves as the most succinct summary of everything this band does well; six minutes of punishing blast beats, inventive and melodic guitar textures, and the dominating presence of vocalist George Clarke’s scorched-earth growls.
‘Only some inter-song chatter between band members alerts the listener that this isn’t a highly-polished studio release.’
The band's earliest songs, originally recorded as a three-person studio project back when lead songwriter Kerry McCoy handled all guitar duties as well as bass, are breathed new life by the confident musicianship of the five-person line up that has stayed mostly consistent since 2013; second guitarist Shiv Mehra’s interplay with McCoy is a constant highlight, and drummer Daniel Tracy’s ungodly stamina and precision has helped push the bands songs to new levels of intensity since he joined in 2012.
Even more recent songs such as Baby Blue (from 2015’s stellar New Bermuda, their darkest and most underrated record which is sadly only represented by this one song) are given greater nuance, with a textural shoegaze lead guitar part in the outro that replaces the ambient synth interlude found on the studio version. Deafheaven have always made judicious use of found-sound collages and instrumental segues on their studio albums, but here the post-rock exploration is put aside in favour of an unrelenting pace.
This album essentially functions as a newly recorded greatest hits collection, played with the easy confidence of an impeccably tight touring machine and bound together with a coherent fidelity that couldn’t be achieved by simply creating a playlist of the songs featured. While the band has consistently recorded with producer Jack Shirley for the entirety of their existence, subtle variances in guitar tone and vocal mixing from album to album (with George Clarke’s noticeably buried vocals on Sunbather being a personal sticking point) are here nullified. Instead, we get the illusion of a seventy-minute studio album, which condenses a decades worth of musical growth into a perfectly sequenced record.
This consistency of production is a welcome feature given that Clarke has greater control over his vocal range than ever, incorporating his recently acquired frost-bitten growls and guttural lows into songs that previously contained only mid-range screams; this is most notable on perpetual show ender Dream House, which closes the album sounding more richly textured than ever. The overall quality of both performance and production is so high that only some inter-song chatter between band members alerts the listener that this isn’t a highly-polished studio release. 10 Years Gone showcases a band at the height of their powers, blasting through a setlist that fans can only hope will be brought to the stage sooner rather than later.
Written by: Matt Taylor
Edited by: Alex Duke