This album is surprisingly un-appreciated on this site (atleast at the moment of my writing). Deafheaven's Sunbather is otherwise quite the critical darling among various music databases. Look no further than Allmusic's perfect 5 stars out of 5, Pitchfork's 8,9/10 or even the listener-approved boldened 3,61 out of 5 on RYM, ensuring it rank #5 out of all 2013 releases there, for proof. From what I've gathered, the band made quite the kickstart into their career having multiple critics praise and hype their music to extents the black metal genre - that they were usually associated with stylistically - wasn't used to at the time. The success didn't come without a price, as their popularity also brought along criticism and a lot of questioning of their black metal cred, due to their visual appearance and combination of unlikely musical styles.
As far as I am concerned, I rather like it. Sunbather especially stands out in the band's discography. Not just for being their most critically acclaimed album, but also for being their most consistent one. Out of all of blackgaze I'm familiar with, Deafheaven also stands out in terms of intensity and aggression, creating a powerful wall of sound, that feels perfectly satisfying, when it's hard shell breaks down on occasions to reveal a more gentle and melodic side. At the forefront of the group is vocalist George Clarke, who's intense black metal screeching manages to stand it's own next to the loud onslaught of instrumental parts.
Highlights of the album are hard to pin down, as there is hardly a dull moment for me to be found on the record. As the bulk of the album serve the four main tracks, which get padded out by the shorter experimental interludes. Dreamhouse, which served as the album's single upon it's release a month before the album filled store shelves, is a nice kick-off. The track, that narratively stands on it's own, initiates the album in a more optimistic fashion, meshing heavy black metal with a more flamboyant shoegaze to build up momentum. Once the 9 minute playtime-mark is passed the record starts developing into a thematically more inter-connected narrative about the lyricists' frustrations with his current life situation. Ultimately I'd say, there is no bad element to the album, though I must admit I tend to lose some attention once the third instrumental track Windows kicks in. My personal favourite track is the title track, as it serves best as the album's representative summary, but I'd again repeat, that all four of the main songs are excellent - from Dreamhouse's dynamic build-up to the roller coaster ride, that is Vertigo and all the way to the singer sulking in daddy issues in Pecan Tree (Yup, I do consider that good for some reason).
Genres: Black Metal Post-Metal
Turns out this is better than I expected and most importantly really fun.
I had originally put this on my to-do list, because it was a band I was familiar with and I wanted to listen to and rate more music. Having been familiar with DragonForce's Inhuman Rampage previously and initially finding it really overwhelming and hard to make out head from toe in the full blast power metal setlist, where half the songs sound really similair to eachother, I was fully prepared to rip DragonForce's arse wide open with their newest release. That would show them for arriving late, that one time I went to see them live, then having some Norwegian Youtuber take over singing, because their frontman got sick...
Actually, not really - I feel like I'm quite the nice guy as a reviewer, but looking at my current music scores (of mostly music, I really like), then comparing it to other sites I'm active at, where I rate films, anime and books, it could give people the impression, that I'm handing out participation prizes to bands every time, they churn out an album. And well, I can't have that for some reason.
So yeah, Extreme Power Metal is not really that extreme. In fact, I'd say Inhuman Rampage is closer to fitting the term (...and since I mentioned it again - yes, I kinda do like the album now - after repeated listens), but that doesn't mean, that the album is worse. Can't say whether this will stand after a couple of years, but right now I'm still quite high from the enjoyment it gave me.
The most notable difference between 2006 DragonForce and 2019 DragonForce is definetly a more laid back attitude and a more fun - albiet less heavy - sound. Seems like DragonForce have been injecting themselves with all sorts of Japanese anime-style musou games and embraced the ridiculousness of the melodramatic fantasy battlefields, they tend to sing about in a self-aware fashion. Just look at the album cover - it's gloriously terrible.
Notable - which was an issue to that other record, I mentioned twice by now - is also, that there is more stylistic diversity. While it's granted still power metal at it's core, you are served an anthemic synth intro on the opening track Highway to Oblivion, oriental flutes and strings on The Last Dragon Born and more of that classic arena rock vibes sprinkled throughout.
I can't say for sure, whether this is a drastic or notable development for the band in the long run - heck, maybe what won me over was already present on the previous records, after all I'm not in-the-know about them - but I'm more than willing to give this album a couple more spins, as the soundtrack to my workload on the upcoming workdays.
Genres: Power Metal
I guess in some twisted way Ordinary Corrupt Human Love was the album, that initially brought me to Deafheaven. Ironic, as I only now feel confident about giving my own two cents on it.
Basically the story begins with hearing a lot of praise on the album in several people's best lists for the year 2018. Several months later - after seeing Architects live at a local metal festival - I got concert-lust, but there were no shows by bands I was into happening nearby. The loophole turned out to be a Deafheaven concert. Opening for them were Touché Amoré, who were another band just sitting there in my to-do list. Due to the overall positive reaction to both bands by critics, I figured I'd give their music a couple of spins. If it's good, I would regret not going, if I got into them later and if it's bad I could keep the 25€. After listening to some mixed material of theirs, Canary Yellow hit me like a truck and it only took 2 more weeks of Sunbather and Stage Four for me to rush to buy a ticket.
Now on to the review; as far as the musical continuum of Deafheaven goes Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is perhaps the most optimistic of their releases. Roads to Judah was thematically a bit scattered, but nevertheless dealing with topics like death and unrequited love, whereas Sunbather and New Bermuda worked as concept albums of the personal turmoil of lead singer and - I assume - lyricist George Clarke. Here the sunshine, that a lot of listeners claim to be hearing in Deafheaven's music, shines probably brightest with even more post-rock passages and notably more optimism in the lyrics.
The album is kicked off with one of the weaker tracks in my opinion. You Without End goes straight into ballad territory with it's keyboard and guitar soloing and just so there is no doubt, that the boys from Deafheaven have been regularly doing their home-reading since 2013, Nadia Kury reads passages from a Tom McElravey short story over it... and don't get me wrong. This is all fine, the real problem is something else. Singer George Clarke bursts straight into his black metal vocals along with it. It feels really misplaced. In fact, You Without End sounds like something you'd think Deafheaven heard at some pub or on some DIY pass-around mix tape, that inspired them to go for blackgaze as a genre rather than them four albums into their career.
Luckily the album improves over time. Honeycomb took quite a while to grow on me, but for the last week I have been regularly getting excited over the hard rock guitar solo, that kicks in at some point after the 4 minute mark. Not to mention, I love the pretentious metaphors in the lyrics: "my love is a bulging, blue-faced fool hung from the throat by sunflower stems".
I also already sung some praise about Canary Yellow, which has an excellent progression going from an post-rock opening, towards a more black metal style and slowly moving towards its climax with memorable guitar soloing then reaching it's finale with a choir part.
Near is a decent post-rock intermission, but unfortunately not a particularly ambitious one. A similair point can be made about Night People, which features Chelsea Wolfe. It's a bit underwhelming considering the talent behind it, but I do appreciate George Clarke wanting to change things up a bit with clean vocals for the duration of the song.
The rest of the album is presented by two more lenghtier blackgaze songs. Glint is a good contender for one of the better songs on the record for it's build-up and progression. The album closes with Worthless Animal, which is fine, but makes me feel like the band went a bit into auto-pilot stylistically, as I am slowly getting deja vu vibes from the instrumentals.
At the end of the day a lot of fans were satisfied with what the record has to offer, while some critics pointed out the shortcomings of the blending of styles and claim to find the album rather uninspired.
Me? I'm kind of on the fence here. The record is decent enough as a new Deafheaven output, but despite finding some form of interest in all 7 featured tracks, it doesn't always work for me, but all in all I'd still rate it mostly positively.
Genres: Black Metal Post-Metal
Sin After Sin was a Judas Priest record, that never really stood out to me too much. Even before picking it up to listen to it as a whole, there just weren't any notable singles on the setlist, one would come across just by letting Youtube autoplay or other forms of playlists have their way. Even in terms of the album's artwork, the album cover looks more like some 90's obscure death metal record than the band's typical iconography of mechanical beasts and rebel-lifestyle glorification.
As far as the music goes, it's fine, but it's overshadowed by Judas Priest's other material doing the same thing, but better. Sinner and Starbreaker are fine empowerment fantasies, but in retrospect perhaps too formulaic in structure and their highlights. Last Rose of Summer and Here Come the Tears are the softer entries on the record. The former being a Led Zeppelin-esque ballad, while the latter - and in my opinion superior song - is an honest expression of self-pity and loneliness. Let Us Prey/ Call for the Priest stands out as an upbeat song and while good, still gives me the feeling like it's more of an template for better songs to come on later records with better production and more notable instrumental and vocal delivieries (most notably I always feel like the song is about to transition straight in to Exciter, a staple of Judas Priest's next record Stained Class). I guess my favourites of the record are the Joan Baez cover of Diamonds and Rust for it's well functioning hook in the melody, as well as track #8 Dissident Aggressor.
So overall Sin After Sin is not a bad record, but it's definetly overshadowed by other entries in Judas Priest's discography.
Genres: Heavy Metal
Cult of Luna is a band, that took surprisingly long to pop up on my radar. It wasn't until late september of 2019, that praises were starting to be sung about their latest release, of how A Dawn of Fear just might be the metal album of the year. The fact, that the early audience response even pushed it on top 10 lists for 2019 on music databases, that don't cover only metal, has further prompted me to give the album a shot.
My initial reaction was quite positive, however I found the 80 minute runtime to be a bit intimidating and found myself demotivated to listen to the whole thing, despite absolutely loving the first two tracks. Ultimately it was the music industry, that manipulated me to get back on that horse, as Metal Blade Records - despite so far only seeing Amon Amarth vinyls from their label in that particular location - somehow put a special edition Vinyl+CD with an attached art and lyric book right there in my local record store just a week after my discovery. (I swear I'm not trying to sell things.) Needless to say, that was the last I saw of that 50€ bill, but I got a 25% discout, which is nice.
On to the review; I had already given praise to the first two tracks and my opinion has obviously not changed mid-review. A Silent Man pulled me in with it's unsettling and excitement-inducing up-tempo riffs, while Lay Your Head to Rest held me back and never let me go thanks to it's grinding doom metal atmosphere. As opposed to my initial intimidation with the record's lenght, the album doesn't really drag for me, as no moment feels wasted, even if it does feel a bit too long at times. I guess, I would have wished for the album to be a bit more experimental, however. I am by now familiar with their dabbling in industrial fill-ins (as in Vertikal) or Crossing Over from their third record Salvation, which is notably softer and gentler than anything that can be heard on A Dawn to Fear, which even in it's lighter moments is still prone to sticking to it's doom & gloom, that blends in admittingly neatly with their mix of sludge and post-metal.
To end the review on a positive note again, I would like to mention, that no track on the record feels like wasted space on the playlist. The album openers - which despite their lenght are still pretty good single material - pull you into the story of an approaching doom, as Nightwalkers slowly creeps up on you by the 26 minute mark. Another great stop in the tracklist is the 15 minute monster of a song, that is Lights on the Hill with it's slow build-up to yet another great chapter of the approaching catastrophe. Tracks like A Dawn to Fear and We Feel the End serve as good pace-changers to the album's otherwise predominantly heavy style and help lead up to the final, that is The Fall nicely.
I guess at the end of the day, I'm not completely sure whether I'd call A Dawn to Fear the metal album of the year. It's an excellent release and a great evolution of the band's sound. The lyrical themes and atmosphere are excellent as well, but I can't help feeling like this isn't quite the ground-breaking record I'd expected to hear, not to mention Blood Incantation is quite a heavy contender this year. But don't let this discourage you, as the band still put together an excellent new chapter to their musical journey and convinced me to dig in deep into their discography for a whole 5 albums within just two months and easily convinced me to go see them live upcoming december.
Genres: Sludge Metal Post-Metal