Review by Trystan
Photos by Mike Bax
Tour line-ups generally follow one of two formats: a) they’re completely random; often forcing fans of opposing genres to get along, and b) a comprehensive and logical arrangement of bands that compliment the headlining act. With Tribulation and Envy opening for Deafheaven, you couldn’t ask for a better representation of the inherent contrast that drives Deafheaven’s sound, and in many ways, success.
If it wasn’t for the corpse paint, at first glance you might confuse Tribulation with an 80’s glam rock group, given their unique attire and the way in which their guitarist writhed around on stage, almost infatuated with the encompassing problem of how to best penetrate the guitar with his genitals. To say he spent more energy on how he looked playing his instrument over actually playing it would be misleading, but not entirely untrue.
Following the theatrics was Envy, a band from Japan that I knew absolutely nothing about (a fact that I’m rather ashamed to admit given the taboo of musical ignorance in the age of YouTube). Starting with “Footsteps in the Distance,” a song that caters to the shoegaze demographic present in the crowd, Envy presented a pleasant illusion to all the uninformed ears in the audience before tearing the veil to shreds with, “Two Isolated Souls.”
Brief mummers in the shape of online comments polluting numerous social media sites mentioned various reasons as to why Envy should be headlining the tour given their tenure as an international act. While such sentiments sound logical they’re void of any sense given Deafheaven’s rapid ascension into fame, as well as the fact that the purpose of the tour in the first place was to promote their newly released album, New Bermuda.
Progressing further into their set, Envy, whether their intention or not, just kept getting louder as they worked their way through their setlist, reaching their max volume with “A Warm Room”; a song that inundated the Opera House in a inescapable wall of sound. Even the stoic nature of the musicians crumbled under the raw power of such a song, violently playing as loud as they could. The conclusion of Envy’s show was met with a thunderous applause. I can only assume that Envy has found a new and extensive audience on this tour, as it is clear that any uninformed fan of Deafheaven (yours truly) would be easily converted. Regardless of whether they were headlining or not, there can be no doubt that this tour has been a successful one for the Japanese band.
If it wasn’t for the release of New Bermuda, I probably would have skipped on Deafheaven’s latest tour. The success of Sunbather prompted the band to tour it aggressively, almost bordering on over saturation. Over the course of three shows in a year and a half – with this last one being the fourth – one would notice a dramatic change in the people attending the shows. Originally, I was dismissive of the Black Metal purists who took great offense to the very existence of Sunbather; as if it represented some sort of sacrilege to their hallowed sub-genre; the rhetoric dogma that flooded the internet a contradiction to what the purists of the genre claim it represents. It’s an irony that was, unfortunately, not lost on hipsters.
The insidious nature of the hipster/Deafheaven relationship is nothing new. Using the word insidious already questions the integrity of what I’m writing. However, after viewing Deafheaven on an almost semi-annual basis, it’s visible that there has been a bandwagon following that has swelled Deafheaven’s ranks, and they’re not metal heads. It’s a simple observation, but as I looked around and saw all the ear spacers I was immediately reminded of the increase in cosmetic earlobe surgeries for all the posers who didn’t have the foresight to see their future self-regret, and I can’t help but wonder if Deafheaven’s success relies on the fact that they are just trendy at the moment.
The band played New Bermuda in its entirety, only being interrupted with the single, “From the Kettle onto the Coil,” before finishing with the final two songs on New Bermuda, “Come back” and “Gifts for the Earth.” The band would re-emerge to the stage for an encore consisting of “Sunbather” and “Dream House.”
To call Deafheaven quiet would be laughable, but following Envy’s set, and considering that the band’s new material isn’t nearly as abrasive, Deafheaven’s volume waned in comparison to their Japanese counterparts. Furthermore, the very presence of the band, both through their stage performance and almost lazy use of the stage lights was lacklustre, with front man, George Clarke, providing the only acknowledgement of the crowd. Perhaps the band’s actions – or lack thereof – on stage have always been hidden by their assaulting strobe lights, but in lacking those, the banal rotation of red, blue, and green combined with the stiffness from the band presented Deafheaven more subdued than their music would suggest.
Finally, looking back on the show as a whole, I find myself agreeing with the dissident comments on social media bolstering the claim that Envy should have headlined. Deafheaven rose to success due to the critical acclaim surrounding their merging of Black Metal with shoe-gaze, post-rock undertones; but Envy has been doing that for the last fifteen years. In some ways, it undermines the sudden fame of Deafheaven. We have only ourselves to blame though, as we put precedence over North American marketing than that of actually seeking out music.