Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

Band: Deafheaven
Album: Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Best song: “Canary Yellow”
Worst song:“Near,” but that’s still a good song.

The pandemic is nearly an end, of sorts. The vaccine rollout is becoming more real and people are getting vaccinated, including me. The world of quarantine is slowing peeling itself back and we, in theory, will be back to a version of normal soon. Bands are booking festivals. Live music may be back soon. Refunds were issued – I was supposed to see Judas Priest indoors in October and that did not happen, for example – and we’re in a waiting pattern. I was supposed to see Deafheaven’s 10-year anniversary tour in May. It got “postponed.”

I cannot wait to see Deafheaven when this is over. They are my favorite live band.

I’ve seen a lot of live shows, including a few bands so many times that I can’t count (GBV, Tortoise, Chelsea Wolfe, etc.) the number of times. There are singular shows that stick out in my mind – seeing Tortoise blast through “Prepare Your Coffin” at a tiny club in D.C. or the outdoor Belle & Sebastian picnic show or knowing every Sleater-Kinney lyric in Baltimore or so many others – but there is only one band that never disappoints, even for a moment.

The first time I saw Deafheaven was, I believe, on the first side of the Sunbather tour in 2013. The album had been released that year and was going to later burn up critics’ “best of” list (it will forever be near the top of mine), but the band had not broken through the mainstream… if a post-metal/black metal/shoegaze metal/whatever metal band can break through to the mainstream. The record would later become the best-reviewed album of 2013 (according to Metacritic), but it was just a really great record to most of us. I’ve already written about the record on this site, so I won’t bore you again. Just know that there are few records that exude the fury, passion, melody and artistry, all in perfect synchronicity.

(Oddly, I believe this is also the first time I saw Marriages live. I caught the tail end of their set, if I remember correctly, and wondered if the guitar player was the same one I’d seen with REd Sparrowes. I was right.)

The album’s title track is one of my favorite songs ever recorded, but the whole album is a gem and they burned through it. “Dream House” is now a set-ender, but it was a battle cry in 2013. “Sunbather” is a brilliant 10-minute exploration of dynamics, but it was simply a way to get the pit going in 2013.

I saw the band on their next Sunbather tour the following year at the same venue (the now-defunct club that anchored my H St. memories) with a band I would come to love – Pallbearer – later. By this time, people know rightfully who Deafheaven were and the place was packed. I’ve never been sweatier just from standing in the corner as the mass of fans moshed and jumped and screamed.

There is beauty in a scream, of course. Phoebe Bridgers’ “I Know the End” ends on one, but black metal is reliant on them for vocals. George Clarke’s is not necessarily a classic black metal scream, but one that relies on the same tricks that bands before him employed. Rather, it holds something rougher, less Cookie Monster than some amalgam of someone being stabbed combined with the fury of battle, all while mentally anguished. It’s the mix of emotions that transcends the Chris Barneses of the world; the emotion almost feels righteous even when the lyrics – and to be clear, I do not care what the lyrics are when Clarke sings them – may go against his vocal timbre.

Indeed, it is that timbre that so attracts me to the band. Clarke’s voice is an instrument just like Kerry McCoy’s soaring guitar is an instrument. I’m sure I could look up the band’s lyrics on Genius or something, but who fucking cares? I like Baronness, too, but John Baizley’s voice matters far more than the fact that his lyrics are often garbgled nonsense or about a book written by a Nazi sympathizer(“Isak” is, in fact, influenced heavily by Knut Hamsun’s Markens Grøde. If an artist puts evocative beauty into their lyrics – Phoebe Bridgers and Chelsea Wolfe come to mind immediately – that’s great, but it is not required. Tortoise is my favorite band, after all.

Ordinary Corrupt Human Love came out when I was in the wilderness regarding this site (though, I guess I remain in the proverbial wilderness regarding writing on this site, even if I’m trying to write more). It’s been nearly three years since the record was released and almost two since the last time I saw them on a co-headline the above-mentioned tour with Baroness.

Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is not the classic that Sunbather is, but that’s akin to saying that Homer’s Barbershop Quartet is not Last Exit to Springfield. Or, to stay in music, to say that Figure 8 is not the same as Either/Or (were you aware that I am white and an old millennial?); the two works do different things, though it is clear that the former is not as much a masterpiece as the latter, but the aims are different anyway. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a record showcasing a band spreading its wings. Where Sunbather is the band’s statement of purpose, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is looking toward other genres and other things. Chelsea Wolfe guests on a track that somewhat resembles a single (“Night People”), while “You Without End” has sections that revolve around a piano.

But, the old Deafheaven hardly went away, which is what so great. “Honeycomb” sounds like it could have come from Roads to Judah while “Canary Yellow” sounds like something crossed between the soaring sound from Sunbather and the harder crunches of New Bermuda while adding a singalong coda. It’s the coolest combination of sounds Deafheaven has put together; though it will never unleash the energy of “Sunbather” or “Brought to the Water,” it is a beautiful composition and an evolution of the band.

Mastodon, Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle (and Marriages, of course), Tortoise. These are the bands that I will see every time they come through DC, but Deafheven is something more.

When this is all over, I will travel to any venue within 200 miles from my home to see them. There is no live band like them and their “live” album (which I probably should’ve used as the hook for this review, but I am stupid) doesn’t do it justice. The closest I can give is the Pitchfork set from 2014. I hope they can bring this energy in 2021 or 2022, because I will absolutely be there.

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